House bills slash federal workforce, start possible hiring freeze

A collection of new House bills aim to slash the federal workforce, let go of 120,000 civilian employees at the Pentagon and take back top secret security clear...

By Sean McCalley
Federal News Radio

A series of new bills introduced in the House of Representatives aim to reduce the overall federal workforce by another 10 percent and the Defense Department’s civilian workforce by 15 percent.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) introduced a bill on Wednesday that projects to save $35 billion over five years by slashing the federal workforce through attrition. Lummis proposed a limit on new federal hires, allowing agencies only one new employee for every three that leave federal service. With the exception of Postal Service employees, the Office of Management and Budget will have to monitor agency efforts all the way through to fiscal 2017.

If the federal government can’t meet or maintain the attrition goals outlined in the bill by fiscal 2017, it will trigger an automatic hiring freeze to force the levels down even further.

“We’ve racked up over $18 trillion in debt simply because Washington has no idea when to stop spending,” Lummis said, in a press release. “Attrition is a solution that requires the federal government to do what any business, state or local government would do to cut costs — limit new hires.”

The bill, called the Federal Workforce Reduction Through Attrition Act, also takes aim at a potential backdoor method to avoid the attrition measures. Federal agencies also have to limit procurement of service contracts to match the rate of workforce reductions. Only during a war or national emergency can agencies hire new employees or issue service contracts at a normal rate.

The same day Lummis introduced her bill, the American Federation of Government Employees spoke out online against the concept of federal workforce reductions. The bill isn’t mentioned in the release, but AFGE cautioned against further reductions of any size.

“Unfortunately, the federal workforce is facing death by a thousand cuts,” wrote AFGE President J. David Cox. “The number of workers employed by the federal government is currently at an all-time low — less than 2 percent of the total U.S. workforce. The last time the number was this low was in the Eisenhower administration.”

DoD workforce reductions

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) reintroduced a bill that would force the Defense Department to systematically let go of about 120,000 civilian employees rather than solely through attrition. Calvert originally proposed the REDUCE Act — or the Rebalance for an Effective Defense Uniform and Civilian Employees Act — last March. It calls for a 15 percent reduction by fiscal 2022, which would completely reverse the growth of the civilian employees at the Pentagon since 2001. Calvert said he chose the figure based on the recommendation of the Defense Business Board.

Once DoD makes the reduction, a hiring cap will last through 2026 to keep the civilian workforce from growing again.

“Many of our civilians at the Pentagon and around the world do a fine job but their growth is unsustainable,” Calvert said, in a press release. “I continue to believe Congress will ultimately have to force DoD’s hand to implement these necessary changes.”

The REDUCE Act also requires cuts to the number of Senior Executive Service employees. By Fiscal Year 2022, the Pentagon would only have 1,000 SES members, with another hiring cap in place to maintain that level for the four years following.

Part of the overall reduction process would include greater authority for the Secretary of Defense to, in some cases, weigh job performance in higher regard than tenure for Reduction in Force measures. The secretary will also have access to incentive payments and early retirement payments for voluntary separation purposes.

The first time Calvert introduced the bill, it met with controversy from federal employee unions. AFGE claims the workforce cuts won’t have any effect on the workload the Pentagon faces.

“DoD would simply be told to do the same with less,” wrote AFGE at the time. The union also cited the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires DoD to scale back its civilian workforce equal to uniformed service member reductions by 2017.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) introduced a bill that calls for an investigation into contract work for the intelligence community. If the bill becomes law, by the end of December the Director of National Intelligence must submit a report documenting which contractors work for intelligence programs and what information they have access to. It must also provide a plan to reduce the amount of those contractors with a top secret security clearance by 25 percent.

Once that plan is in place, ODNI will have a year to make it a reality.

Today Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) reintroduced the DISCLOSE Act, which would require full disclosure of political spending by corporations and outside groups to the federal election commission. Since the House passed the DISCLOSE Act in 2010 — where it went on to fail in the Senate by one vote — the bill and similar proposals from the White House have raised concerns from the federal contracting community who view the requirements as a waste of time and money.


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