If all goes as planned and promised (one of those keep-your-fingers-crossed Washington concepts), curious feds will learn tomorrow what sort of future they have in their current jobs, if any. The legal, HR and administrative offices of many agencies have been working overtime to come up with a plan that will please Congress and the White House.
The Trump administration wants across-the-government cutbacks. It listed the percentages it expects early this year but has left it to individual agencies to come up with their plans as to where cuts will take place — with a Friday, June 30 deadline.
The Environmental Protection Agency has been the poster child for cuts. It is almost certainly the administration’s least favorite operation. As target number one, the EPA has been at the forefront in saying what it is likely to do. That plan includes getting rid of up to one in every 10 of its employees (about 1,200 job cuts). And it has said it will likely be offering both buyouts (worth up to $25,000 before deductions, and technically known as VSIPs) as well as early retirement, or VERA, to employees who want the buyouts or whose jobs or functions will be on the chopping block.
The Interior Department has previously announced some of the biggest cuts — about 4,000 people. Many of them are expected in the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, as the administration shrinks or opens up the size of some federal land area deals, with allegations of widespread sexual harassment it inherited at the NPS.
Some agencies may try to slim down via attrition either by (another) hiring freeze or filling only some of the positions made vacant by resignation, retirement or death. By natural causes, of course.
Those that try to cut specific jobs and programs via RIF (reduction in force) will find out what a buzzsaw civil service regulations (approved and required by Congress) can be. Under RIF rules, military veterans and employees with time-on-the-job seniority can bump lower-level non-vets and new hires out of their positions while keeping their current salary.
RIF rules come with nearly 100 pages of instructions. If done properly, they can take up a lot of time and energy in agencies that decide to go that route.
The Defense Department will be reshaped in many places, but overall is expected to grow.
Once actual cuts are announced, members of Congress may start getting serious pushback from their congressional districts, which they will learn, if they don’t already know, are chock-full of feds whose full employment is critical to the local economy. Some smaller communities remain economically afloat only because of a nearby VA hospital or facility, a federal prison, IRS center, National Park, Social Security operation or an Army or Air Force base on a naval facility.
A RIF in many small communities would generate a hometown recession that could impact an entire state.
For relatively new feds, it is important to remember this has happened before. Several times. Presidents Carter, Clinton, Bush, to mention a few, decided to revamp the government with varying degrees of success. Clinton made the biggest inroads in reducing the bureaucratic giant using buyouts, reductions in force and privatization to cut about 247,000 federal jobs.
Shortly after President Ronald Reagan took office, a Washington newspaper warned his plan would “decimate” the fed-rich Washington, D.C. metro area. Some scholars say decimate came from the ancient Roman army practice of killing one of very 10 legionnaires to send a message.
Others say it can mean more than a tenth, but not at the levels predicted by the newspaper. In any case, after-the-dust-settled increases in the number of Defense Department civilians more than offset cuts in other agencies.