Congressional failure to approve budgets is bringing many federal agencies to the point where they may have to fire a lot more people than even the most antibureaucrat economizers had in mind.

Every day that agencies delay taking hard personnel actions (because they don't know what Congress and the White House want) the number who will eventually be fired, furloughed or both grows like an upside-down pyramid.

Because of the heavy first-year costs involved in firing an employe (severance pay, lump sum payments for annual leave and unemployment benefits which Uncle Sam pays) some agencies will find it easier to furlough everybody than to fire even a few people.

Furloughs have an immediate dollar savings. RIFs, unless they are made early in the fiscal year, can wind up costing agencies more money than it would spend keeping workers on the payroll. That is because agencies must pay workers severance (up to one year for long-service employes), pay them for unused leave and also pay the benefits of those who wind up on unemployment compensation.

Agencies that RIF workers early in the fiscal year find it easier to make substantial savings. Those who fire later wind up firing more people to make the same fiscal year savings. Every day Congress sits on agency budgets increases the likelihood of bigger RIFs and raises job fears. Because of RIF costs, agencies have to RIF more people in July than they would have fired had they done it in January.

Office of Education has a "model" showing the impact of delaying a RIF designed to produce savings by firing "only" 100 people. Delaying the RIF raises the number who are actually fired to make the same savings.

An agency that could get by firing 100 aides (average salary and benefits of $30,000) on Sept. 30, one day before the fiscal year starts, would have to fire 114 if the RIF is run just 30 days later.

If the RIF was run on Dec. 31, the model agency would need to fire 160 people to get the same fiscal year dollar savings.

If the RIF was delayed until March 31, the number to be fired would jump to 394.

If the agency, in this model, waits until April 30 to run its RIF, it would have to fire 773 people to achieve the same savings that a RIF of 100 would have accomplished in September.

RIFs have a short-term cost to the government, can be disruptive to the public business and nearly always are a tragedy to the people being fired. And it gets worse every minute. Are you listening, Congress?