Federal downsizing can degrade services, workers coalition says

Shrinking the federal workforce does not necessarily save money but it can degrade government services to the public, a coalition of federal employee professional associations has said.

The Coalition for Effective Change last week released a report saying there are many similarities between the present and the 1993 to 1998 period when federal employment dropped by 15 percent as part of the Clinton administration’s “government reinvention” initiative.

(John Moore/Getty Images)

(John Moore/Getty Images)

“Tough economic times led to budget cuts, which in turn led agencies to cut federal employees,” it said. “Much as in the 1990s, the quick, surface or across-the-board cuts will likely cause more problems than they solve and they do not take into account long-term effects or have any strategy to them.”

Many federal agencies, including the largest, the Defense Department, have started to downsize by imposing hiring freezes due to sequestration, filling vacancies only in limited circumstances. Separately, a budget plan before the House would reduce the workforce by 10 percent over two years through attrition.

The coalition’s report said that the Government Accountability Office found the claimed savings from the government reinvention program were overstated, and that it is unclear whether the effort achieved its overall goal of improving customer service. However, it said, the loss of front-line employees led to backlogs at consumer-oriented agencies such as the Social Security Administration, IRS and Department of Veterans Affairs.

That program “did not seem to consider that federal employees carry out the laws enacted by Congress and that federal employees and agencies do not determine what jobs must be done . . . when cuts are made without a strategy for managing the work, remaining employees are shifted into new jobs or have their workloads increased with new duties without the training and assistance necessary to help them perform.”

To make up for the loss of in-house capacity, agencies increased their reliance on contractors, which in some cases took over work that is governmental in nature, the report said. It is “unclear that savings were actually achieved, and it certainly appears that oversight was decreased as the government has fewer mechanisms to hold contractors accountable than it does for federal employees.”

The report added: “Continued negative talk about needing to fix a broken government further eroded public confidence in federal institutions. Therefore cuts to budget and personnel that make it hard for agencies to serve the American people or meet their missions become a self-fulfilling prophecy of broken government.”

 

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