By a 10-to-1 ratio, federal workers say they would be willing to miss a couple of days' pay if it will help Uncle Sam make ends meet and prevent layoffs that usually hit young workers, women and minorities hardest.
On Oct. 21 we asked feds to vote on the furlough-vs.-RIF (layoff) option. The question was: "Would you forgo a day or two of pay to prevent or minimize RIFs in your agency?" Many operations face cutbacks. Some departments are considering the use of furloughs to trim the government's $190 million-per-day civilian payroll.
Thousands of federal workers responded, by mail, postcard and telephone. We didn't count telephone calls in our final result. Nearly everybody used a stamp -- instead of government franked envelopes. More than half signed their names and put in addresses.
As of last Friday we had received 7,413 letters and cards. The majority came from metro Washington -- with heavy responses from Health and Human Services, Labor and Commerce. There were about 50 letters from Denver, and some from St. Louis, Chicago and New York. One card came from a U.S. civil servant in Mexico City. There were two letters from government workers in London, and half a dozen from Honolulu.
6,640 of the "voters" said they would volunteer for a short furlough if it would prevent or minimize RIFs.
713 said they would not volunteer for a furlough. Some complained that the question was loaded, or too simple. Others said it was a put-up job by the White House (it wasn't) to sucker people into furloughs now, with RIFs to come anyhow.
About 60 respondents were "undecided." The majority said there is some merit to a voluntary furlough plan, but they didn't believe Congress or the White House -- given the drubbing feds have taken from politicians lately -- would temper RIFs because workers took time off.
Federal agencies can, of course, furlough people whether they volunteer for it or not. They are supposed to give people 30 days' notice but, in an emergency (shortage of funds, etc.) they move more quickly. Some agencies here have drawn up contingency plans to furlough people for four or five days before the end of this year or in early January. None have been approved. But they could be, depending on what Congress does with their budgets next week.
Of the 360,000 feds here, more than 7,400 of them took the time and trouble to jot a letter or card, and mail it.
If the Reagan administration is serious about voluntarism, if it is serious about not hurting people -- RIFs hurt and feds are people and taxpayers too -- maybe some layoffs could be avoided. If officials feel furloughs are necessary, they should give people a guarantee that furloughs will make a difference, that they could save jobs.
If the White House or the Office of Personnel Management responds we will let you know. If they do not respond we will let you know that, too.
Thanks to all of you who sent cards or letters. A lot of time and thought went into many of them, and we will try to answer these. Also thanks to vote counters Joan Johnson (volunteer) and draftees Libby and Jocelyn Causey.