Sequester

A modest proposal: Eliminate poor performers first

idle worker

Does this lazy fellow provide an alternative that could allow agencies to reduce their need for furloughs? (Stock image)

Instead of furloughing hard-working federal employees, why not eliminate underperformers or those who never show up?

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is posing just that question to the Office of Personnel Management. In a March 27 letter to OPM Director John Berry, Coburn said agency leaders could avoid sweeping furloughs by getting rid of employees who do not perform official duties or simply do not work at all.

"It makes little sense to furlough air traffic controllers and border patrol agents while retaining employees who are AWOL, on standby, not performing official duties, or sitting idle awaiting security clearances," wrote Coburn, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

According to Coburn, from 2001 to 2007, employees at 18 agencies were AWOL for at least 19.6 million hours. And in 2011, the government spent more than $155 million on 3.4 million hours -- or a year’s worth of work for more than 1,600 workers -- on employees who show up for work but perform duties unrelated to their agencies’ missions.

And in 2010 and 2011, Coburn said, at least 1,825 employees received standby pay totaling more than $13 million. "While it makes sense to have some on standby, such as employees at the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, others are less obvious, such as the standby employees at the Agricultural Marketing Service," Coburn wrote.

Furthermore, as many as 20 percent of intelligence contractors drew salaries while awaiting their security clearances. They were never given "meaningful work," yet cost the government $900 million to $1.8 billion a month in wasted contractor hours, Coburn said, citing a Federal Times report.

Targeting those areas could protect employees who perform truly essential agency missions, Coburn concluded. He asked Berry to provide details to the Senate committee on the cost of standby employees and the total amount the government pays for employees "to do nothing."

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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