Policy office keeps shedding workers

Twenty-two workers at the Office of Governmentwide Policy have accepted buyouts. Forty-five have transferred to other GSA units. Twenty-five remain up in the air.

The number of employees at the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy (OGP) continues to drop in anticipation of a $9.3 million budget cut next fiscal year.

So far, 22 people have accepted early buyout offers, approximately 45 have been transferred to other divisions within GSA. The future of approximately 25 employees is still up in the air as a process to find them jobs within GSA or at other agencies proceeds. The numbers are approximate because they represent employees expressed as full-time equivalents, a budgeting device that measures the number of working hours an organization can afford. The office is budgeted for 210 full-time equivalents through fiscal 2005.

In all, 92 full-time equivalent positions are slated for elimination by fiscal 2006, when agency officials anticipate Congress will approve the Bush administration's $52.8 million budget request for OGP, a 15 percent cut compared with this fiscal year’s appropriation.

The office of e-government and information technology will sustain cuts of 50 percent, a level roughly in line with average cuts of 40 percent across OGP, said associate administrator G. Martin Wagner.

The resulting organization will be more tightly focused on its core mission of policy rather than operations, Wagner said. Some government officials have criticized OGP for straying from policy matters by assuming too many operational duties. The office has a history of incubating e-government projects before agencies assume large-scale operational duties.

"There's a tendency when you're trying to get things started to do it yourself rather than get the persons whose mission it is to do it," Wagner said. By acting as an operational incubator, OGP risks creating a situation in which agency business processes for IT solutions that should be streamlined will go unchanged, he said. "The real trick is to make sure that the operational stuff is happening in the right places."

Among the functions transferred elsewhere within GSA are operational elements of the e-travel e-authentication projects, Wagner said.

Given Congress’ likely approval of the budget reduction, the time to start reorganizing and reducing employees is now, Wagner said. "We realized we could not wait until [fiscal] 2006 because, to make changes of this magnitude, you don't have the money to handle it in one year."

About 25 employees without buyouts or transfer offers lack skills for the reorganized OGP, Wagner said. "We will be working with them over the next month to get them placed in other organizations," he added.

But those employees slated for displacement should remain within OGP, said Jim Hanley, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees’ GSA council of locals. "How are those skills no longer needed?" Hanley asked. "Because [GSA] still has the same responsibilities."

OGP officials should have waited for Congress to pass the GSA spending bill before acting, GSA union representatives say. "The people that got buyouts would have had a full year at full pay, which would have been better," Hanley said.

Acting before the fiscal year denies lawmakers the opportunity to restore GSA funding, he added. "They've denied Congress their appropriations right and their power of the purse," Hanley said.

Hanley also criticized the job-finding process GSA officials have set up for those workers. "People have come to us and they've said, 'They're not announcing jobs at our grade level,’" Hanley said.

The process does not give enough weight to worker seniority, he said. "The employees are really in a state of panic and terror," he added.

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