Workforce is once more a target

Remember the long list of bills last year that sought to save money by messing with the federal workforce? Extended pay freezes, furloughs, cutting the number of employees — all those proposals came and went, keeping feds perpetually on edge. Well, it’s not over yet.

As the fiscal 2013 budget battle heats up, one need only look at the Republican proposal that House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released in March. Titled "The Path to Prosperity," it includes proposals to extend the Obama administration’s freeze on federal salaries through 2015 and reduce the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition over a three-year period.

House Democrats, led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member of the Budget Committee, released their own budget proposal in March. "Making It in America" calls for an approach to deficit reduction based on balanced spending cuts and revenue increases. The Democrats’ proposal implicitly rejects the Republicans' call to cut the workforce, saying that "an indiscriminate, across-the-board 10 percent cut" would harm security agencies, which have accounted for more than 94 percent of the growth of the federal workforce since 2001.

The Democratic document served as a sequel of sorts to the budget request the Obama administration released in February, which would end the pay freeze and give federal civilian employees a (very small) raise.

None of the proposals is going to become the budget, but they signal the parties' philosophies and approaches to deficit reduction. On the GOP side, that includes keeping federal employees at their current pay rate for several more years.

So even if the GOP’s budget proposal goes into the ash heap, the ideas will certainly rise from the ashes in one form or another — and probably more than once this year.

Consultant Howard Risher, writing in Federal Times, said an extended federal pay freeze could cost more than it saves, especially as talented and hard-to-replace employees in technology, engineering and health care leave for the private sector.

Risher suggested trying to create a high-performance culture among federal employees using management practices that have worked in other settings. “Those higher levels of performance could generate savings far beyond the net savings from the freeze,” he wrote. “The changes would make government a better place to work. We know how to accomplish that.”

Meanwhile, existing measures are having a detrimental effect on some government organizations, Government Executive reports. For example, temporary employees who must periodically apply to continue their employment at the Agriculture Department are being rejected due to a hiring freeze at the agency.

Federal Computer Week readers were none too happy about the workforce measures in the Republican budget proposal either.

One reader, who chose the pseudonym Frustrated, wrote: “I find it amazing that a whole group of highly paid, self-made or hereditary millionaires continue to take their $3,000 raise while plotting the demise of millions of Americans through cuts and slashes. Plus, it's not just the deficit we're expected to pay back now. We're a fount of money for highway/road fixes, college tuition rate breaks and anything else they can think of. Sure, we have no life except to serve your whim.”

Another reader, using the moniker Bemused, pointed out a discrepancy: “OK, Congress, stop mandating that agencies keep increasing their headcounts. ‘What?’ you say, ‘Congress appears to say one thing and do another?!?’ That’s right, girls and boys. As an example, my agency has, for several years, been given congressional mandates to increase our headcount by a couple thousand over the last three years.”

So as 2012 continues to unfold, don’t be surprised to see more bills in Congress that would cut federal pay, downsize the workforce and otherwise seek to reduce the deficit through changes to federal employment. It is inevitable.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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