By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio
In a recent survey, Federal News Radio asked 36 of the largest federal agencies whether they had sought permission from the Office of Personnel Management to seek buyouts or intend to impose an agency hiring freeze.
Most of the 10 agencies that responded did not have a formal hiring freeze or buyout proposal considered. But, the Social Security Administration and the Air Force said they have implemented hiring controls. And, the Education Department, Defense Department, Agriculture Department (USDA), and the Smithsonian said they have sought OPM’s permission for buyouts.
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“The Air Force has already implemented civilian hiring controls – two out, one in – to meet our FY-2012 authorized end-strength,” an Air Force official said. “We will transition to more tailored hiring controls in the near future to ensure that limited personnel resources are applied to the highest priorities.
“Given the current fiscal environment the Air Force will continue to examine all programs looking for efficiencies and tradeoffs in order to reinvest them to protect readiness and enhance force structure and modernization,” he said.
“Until the FY-2012 budget is approved we will not know the funding level or be able to accurately project its impact,” said a spokeswoman for DOD. “In the event the approved budget does include personnel reductions, the department is postured to effectively manage within approved funding levels by accomplishing its strategic priorities and minimizing adverse impacts on its current workforce.
“Within the DoD, civilian workforce management is largely decentralized, and any budget cuts will affect the DoD Components to varying degrees. In addition to Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay (VSIP), the Department has a wide range of workforce shaping tools to meet all types of contingencies, and they are readily available to Commanders,” she said.
“The Secretary of Defense has permanent independent authority to approve up to 25,000 buyouts annually,” she said. “Buyouts paid to non-appropriated fund employees and to employees facing separation due to Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) do not count against this limitation.”
In the first three quarters of FY-2011, approximately 1,100 employees accepted non-BRAC buyouts, the DoD spokeswoman said. “It is not anticipated that DoD will need any additional VSIP allocations to address its FY11 or FY12 workforce reshaping requirements,” she added.
“The National Archives is not considering buyouts at this time,” said an archives official.”The National Archives is examining a number of possibilities for how to achieve anticipated cuts in discretionary spending. No decisions have been reached at this time,” he said.
“Throughout the years, the Marine Corps has always been conscientious of our nation’s fiscal environment and today’s challenges are no different. The Corps continually searches for opportunities to save taxpayer money while providing the Nation a unique, flexible, scalable, amphibious capability,” a spokesman from the Marine Corps said.
Social Security Administration
“The agency is not in a position to offer buyouts in the current fiscal environment,” said a spokeswoman from SSA. “Given the tight budget situation, we implemented an agencywide hiring freeze with the exception of our hearings offices. We have had to cut most overtime, except for critical activities such as helping people who come into our offices for service at the end of the day. We also have cut expenses such as training and travel, and have suspended issuing Social Security Statements,” she said.
Health and Human Services
“HHS is not in a position at this point to speculate on what impact potential budget reductions will have on HHS programs and activities in the future,” an HHS spokesman said.
“We already have approval from OPM for buyouts,” an Education Department official said. “Some have been offered this year. We will take steps to stretch limited administrative funding as far as possible. We only spend about 1 percent of our budget on administration, but we can take steps to become more efficient.
“For example, we will hire employees at lower grades to replace those who depart. We will reduce travel costs by increasing communication through technological tools like webinars, Skype and video-teleconferencing. We will purchase supplies through consolidated arrangements that trigger discounts. We will rely on fixed-price, performance-based contracts wherever possible for delivery of college student aid and loan servicing.”
“Due to the immediate impacts resulting from the enactment of the FY-2011 Full Year Continuing Resolution, difficult decisions were required in a number of USDA programs and projects in order to absorb funding reductions,” a USDA official said.
“USDA is taking a proactive approach to minimize the impacts on our workforce by offering the opportunity for VERA [Early Retirement Authority] and VSIP [Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments]. We believe VERA and VSIP will contribute to agency flexibility in addressing these and, potentially, future funding reductions. USDA requests for VERA and VSIP were approved by OPM on May 13 and employees have been notified,” the official said.
“USDA will offer a Department-wide VERA to all USDA employees in FY 2011. USDA will offer VERA (also known as “early out”) for employees who meet minimum age/length of service criteria,” he said.
“This criteria expands the normal retirement eligibility to allow employees to voluntarily retire, with an immediate annuity, with 20 years of service at age 50, or at 25 years of service regardless of age. The early out authority will be offered to all eligible employees, regardless of grade, job series, and location except those expressly excepted exceptions will be limited to those positions for which the agency has direct hire authority,” he said. “Those employees covered by a Direct Hire authority that is in use at USDA are excepted and not eligible for VERA. Based on historical information, it is anticipated that less than 1 percent will be take the VERA offer.
“USDA will offer VSIP to 544 positions impacted by specific earmark reductions and program eliminations identified for the following three agencies: Agricultural Research Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and Natural Resources Conservation Service.”
“Our buyout is for federal employees only and some categories are excluded, such as security,” said a Smithsonian spokeswoman.”Total staff eligible is about 2,400. The deadline for staff to respond is July 22 so we don’t know yet. Likely will be less than the 2009 offer which had about 150 staffers take the buyout.
“There is no hiring freeze at Smithsonian right now,” she added.
Department of Homeland Security
The Department of Homeland Security has not requested Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) or Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIP) Authority from OPM based on current appropriations, a DHS official said. “Furthermore, to speculate on options would be inappropriate,” the official added.
Both the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) declined to comment.
Jory Heckman is an intern with Federal News Radio.
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