Tomorrow is the last day of work for approximately 100 federal workers at the Parklawn building in Rockville. They are the victims of budget cuts and program changes and will join 4,000 other feds in other agencies, other cities, who have been RIFfed (fired) this year.
Unlike most other RIF victims, many of the about-to-be-ex-feds in the Public Health Service will return next week as part of an extraordinary effort to help them find jobs-- with free office space, telephones, copying machines and peer support while they look. It may save Uncle Sam a bundle of money as he helps them help themselves. Many of the 3,100 feds who are due for the same RIF treatment between now and the end of January should be so lucky.
The Parklawn experiment is called the Job Club. It is under the supervision of Larry Livingston, who looks like a scaled-down version of his son, Phil, a lineman for the Oakland Raiders football club. PHS management has given Livingston and company the space, resources and cooperation to make a very special effort to help displaced workers find other jobs. They have an "office" on the 16th floor, telephones, secretarial help and inside counselors and outside consultants who advise them in job hunting, help prepare resumes and provide contacts for the RIFees.
Officials who are familiar with the program -- due to run through March 15 -- believe that it could be cost-effective for the entire government, if other agencies would make the effort. In addition to the trauma to the individuals, no-fault firings cost the taxpayers a lot of money. Workers can get up to one year of severance pay and also unemployment benefits (until they find a new job) that are charged to their former agency, which charges them to you.
Idea behind the Job Club is to put people on RIF lists (or those already fired) in small groups where they work with job-hunting specialists, and each other, to find work. Former workers are encouraged to get up each morning and report to the job, even though it no longer exists. At the Job Club office they make contacts, use equipment and resources that are unavailable or costly to people out of work. PHS officials figure that if they can place a dozen people -- and they want to place everybody -- they can save money. They figure each RIF of a longtime worker can cost the government $10,000 to$25,000 in the first year.
Many federal agencies are operating out-placement programs. Some are good. Some just go through the motions. But the Parklawn experiment, just a couple of weeks old, seems like a very good idea and one that other agencies -- facing substantial layoffs in the coming months -- ought to try. Whether you are a soft-hearted humanitarian or a hard-hearted fiscal type, you have to wish the experiment luck. A followup in a couple of weeks.