RIFs: Uncle Sam’s do-it-yourself haircut

Why is a government reduction in force like giving yourself a haircut? Senior Correspondent Mike Causey says both should be options of last resort with Band-Aid...

Have you ever (as an adult) given yourself a haircut? Or had a well-meaning friend do it for you? If so, how did that work out? And do you still trim your own once-flowing locks?

The first rule of cutting your own hair is don’t cut your own hair. Or let a non-professional do it.

The second rule of self-inflicted haircutting is learning how to convince friends and coworkers that toques are hot. Everybody should be wearing one. Like you do.

Why the haircut talk? Simple. The Air Force says it is badly in need of a trim. That it needs to shed at least 1,000 civilian jobs sooner rather than later.

Normally, when agencies decide to cutback they offer buyouts. Officially known as VSIPs (voluntary separation incentive payments), buyouts are worth up to $25,000 before deductions. That was a fairly attractive sum in the 1990s when they were first launched. Today, not so much.

Air Force had two rounds of buyouts but didn’t get enough takers. So now it is going to do-it-your-self buzz cut, which, in government lingo, is known as a RIF. For reduction-in-force.

Like self-inflicted haircuts, RIFs can be messy. And produce surprising, as in OMG, results.

During a RIF, officials may target one position/individual for elimination. But if that employee has seniority/is a veteran or both, he/she can bump somebody with less service or who is not a veteran. People can also be demoted but in some cases allowed to keep their current salary for a period of time.

In many, maybe most, past RIFs the result is that people targeted for a layoff don’t get laid off. Under last-hired-first-fired rules some of the people agencies want to keep (younger employees, recently hired minorities) for both strategic and diversity reasons are pushed out the door.

During the 1990s, tens of thousands of feds got buyouts. Many of their jobs and functions were farmed out to contractors. But buyouts were used because the administration said it didn’t want to reverse the diversity gains it had made by hiring large numbers of college graduates, women and minorities.

Air Force’s coming do-it-yourself RIF will be little more than a trim compared to the downsizing of the 1990s. It was aimed primarily at older, non-minority workers with veterans preference. In other words fire-proof. It worked because $25k, back in the day, was worth something. At least more than in 2015 dollars.

But for thousands of Air Force civilians who may get caught up in what is being billed as a “small” action, it could get messy.

Nearly Useless Factoids

By Michael O’Connell

In Canada, Canadian bacon is generally referred to as “back bacon”.

Source: Wikipedia

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