A new long-range RIF (reduction-in-force) forecast due out this week may send goose bumps down the spines of Washington's 366,000 feds who are worried that budget cuts and program shifts may push cuts and program shifts may push them into a mad job scramble, or into the ranks of the unemployed.
Top federal officials are still trying to figure out how many civil servants here and around the nation will be RIFed because of White House and congressional budget and job cut orders. Office of Personal Management brass who have been receiving RIF projections from federal agencies here said that as of May 15 local agencies reporting in said that "only" about 3,700 jobs here would be hit by RIFs. "Only" 3,700 out of 366,000 isn't bad odds, unless you are one of the 3,700, in which case it is a 100 percent disaster.
But congressional experts watching the RIF situation believe that the impact on the metro Washington area (and the figures change daily because of new agency reports, congressional actions and the attrition rate in government) will be greater than supposed. They say that some agencies and departments (Department of Energy is an example) are drawing competitive areas so narrowly that workers many of them professionals, will not be able to move into other vacancies. The congressional RIF watchers say that many workers who escape RIFs will nevertheless be downgraded.
Aides to the Federal Government Services Task Force, the congressional unit that is monitoring RIFs, say that some agencies are doing a good job in reporting RIF plans, and in taking steps to find other jobs for displaced employes. Among the good guys, they say, are Health and Human Services ADAMHA in Rockville, the Department of Transportation and Interstate Commerce Commission. Task force data collectors say they are having trouble getting information from Housing and Urban Development, the Departments of Justice and Energy and the Community Services Administration about RIF and placement plans.
The task force is also concerned that federal officials are relying too much on attrition to open up vacancies that will make RIFs less likely or less severe. The attrition rate in most federal agencies has dropped since the hiring freezes imposed by Carter and Reagan, and since Reagan and Congress have announced plans to cut the size of government. "People are holding on to jobs, sitting tight, instead of retiring," a congressional aide said. "Anybody who thinks the RIFs can be handled by attrition just isn't looking at the figures."
"Data due out this week are expected to show that more agencies have reached the conclusion that they can't get down to new sizes without RIFs. The RIFs will also have a greater impact on professionals, insiders say, than had previously been anticipated.
"Turnover is highest in the owest grades at clerical levels. But many of the cutbacks are going to have to be made in grants areas, involving specialized, higher grade personnel.Placing them into comparable jobs won't be easy," says a congressional RIF watcher.
The figures due out this week won't tell the final story. It may be months yet before the RIF impact on Washington and other major federal job centers, is known. But the upcoming data will paint a bleaker picture of the job security in Washington's supposedly fire-proof bureaucracy.