Workforce

OPM: Job cuts could be part of the 'executive playbook'

people standing on keyboard (Who is Danny/Shutterstock.com) 

The Office of Personnel Management is telling agencies that workforce cuts may be in order was they rely more heavily on new technologies.

In a memorandum to agency heads, acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert released series of management guidance documents for employers "to prepare the workforce for new types of jobs and skills that will be needed as automation rapidly changes the way we work." According to the guidance, that could mean workforce separations.

In the "Executive Playbook for Workforce Reshaping," OPM lays out four human capital strategies: restructuring, resizing, reskilling, and recruiting and hiring. As part of the resizing strategy, OPM provides guidance on reductions in force, voluntary early retirement authority, voluntary separation incentives and reassignment authorities.

OPM recommends agencies to resize their workforce if their mission or work has changed, if the workforce and its skills are not relevant to new work or if agencies "have more people than work."

In its playbook for reshaping, OPM identifies budget changes, directives and mandates, changes to the labor force, customer needs and "advances in how work is accomplished" among the factors that could influence management decisions to reshape.

Additionally, Weichert provided agency heads with separate "guidance for change management." That guidance directs management to develop human capital requirements, then conduct a workforce analysis before planning for structural and cultural changes.

"Running a government agency is not a game and encouraging managers to check a few boxes on a one-page 'worksheet' called 'Discover the Plays!' before deciding to eliminate jobs is insulting," Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, told FCW in an email. "Federal employees and American taxpayers deserve a more serious and sober approach to government reorganization."

But with the changing nature of work, federal managers need to plan ahead, according to Margot Conrad, director of federal workforce programs at the Partnership for Public Service.

"OPM's new resources will support agencies in their workforce reshaping and retraining efforts by providing greater insights on data and effective communication strategies and help agencies make strategic decisions and manage change," Conrad said.

The Trump administration has repeatedly proposed cutting federal retirement benefits and agency budgets as a way to reduce civilian spending. In a December 2018 analysis, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that through attrition, the federal government would save about $600 million in fiscal year 2020 and about $2 billion in fiscal year 2021. Over the next 10 years, CBO estimated that government would save $35 billion through workforce attrition.

Attrition of a sort is already taking place at civilian agencies. As of September 2018, the most recent data available, most agencies and every cabinet agency, with the exception of Treasury, have seen their overall employment shrink since the year prior.

The overall workforce size increased from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2018, but that is due to an uptick in hiring at the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

CBO warns that workforce reductions in government could come at a cost and "would probably reduce the quality and quantity of some of the services provided and could have other negative effects, such as increasing the amount of fraud and abuse in some government programs."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.

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