Workforce

Agencies steer clear of RIFs in reorg plans

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Agencies say they can meet White House government reorganization principles and fall in line with their fiscal year 2018 budgets by reducing the workforce through attrition and reclassifying employees, rather than layoffs.

Assistant for human resources and administration at the Department of Veterans Affairs Peter Shelby said at a Sept. 20 event that he was looking at companies such as Amazon and Microsoft, as well as areas of success within VA, as a model for consolidating the department’s remaining 172 human resources offices.

“We have a very inefficient, ineffective business model,” he said at the Washington, D.C. event hosted by Government Executive. “We cannot keep pumping more and more resources into an inefficient system.”

So far, Shelby pointed to the National Cemetery Administration’s move to consolidate all of its human resources into a single place as "our model," and said he has already closed its HR headquarters in Washington, D.C. "We want to shrink the administrative footprint in D.C.," he said. "Your HR person does not need to be sitting right next to you.”

Shelby also said that the department is "in the process of an IT upgrade" that will automate “about 60 percent of the work that our HR employees are doing right now."

For the 28 or so employees at VA’s now-shuttered D.C. office, Shelby said they have the option to be relocated if they want. He also pointed to the Offices of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs and of Legislative and Congressional Affairs as other areas of consolidation

Through these sorts of relocations and automations of tasks, "you hope that through attrition you eliminate a lot of those positions and people move on. And those who don’t" can be retrained to fill other roles, he said.

"I'm very confident that at the end of this there won’t be much unwanted attrition, in that people aren't going to be [downsized through reductions in force]," he said.

Although VA saw a budget increase in the White House’s budget proposal, other civilian agencies that did not are looking to carry out their reorganization plans while focusing on their respective missions.

Elias Hernandez, chief human capital officer at the Small Business Administration, said that because his agency is facing a budget decrease of about five percent of its enacted 2017 level, "we have to look into the organization to see how we can slightly reduce the [full-time employees]."

Hernandez said SBA has "received the green light from OMB" to begin some of the reorganization efforts, but the specifics have not yet been distributed to the employees. He also pointed to the consolidation of the C-suite as a focus of the reorganization.

However, he made clear, "we are not going to be doing a reduction in force at SBA."

"There is so much attrition that is already taking place in the organization that we're going to manage the agency reform and the adjustment we need to make based on our budget based on the attrition that’s going on," he said.

Raymond Limon, deputy chief human capital officer at the Department of Interior, said his agency isn't going into the reorganization with the mindset of cutting personnel, "but we"re always going to work to our budget, no doubt about it."

“The expectation is we need shrink our footprint,” he said. The Trump budget proposed an 11 percent cut in Interior's budget. "Numerically, we don’t have necessarily have a target, but it's kind of that expectation that if work can be performed in the field, we should do it."

Limon floated the idea of replacing in-house "support services" with a shared service approach.

"When you look at the types of skills that we need… there are going to be some opportunities around support services that can put together a shared service model," he said. "Perhaps we don't need as many HR people, or as many IT people, or a bunch of acquisition types of support services because there's a lot of people doing that really well."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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