The government could save the taxpayers a lot of money (and the taxpayers who work for it a lot of heartache and anxiety) if it stopped hiring 1,400 new people every day through one door while it fires 21 people daily through another door and calls it economy.
Although Uncle Sam fired 8,000 last year to save money, he continued to hire almost as many replacements for people lost through death, retirement or resignation.
In the push to RIF (fire) people some agencies are spending (in severance, and unemployment benefits) more than it costs to keep them on the payroll. Some are spending thousands of dollars to find new people. Some agencies offer inducements to push workers--some as young as 43 --into early, and long, retirement.
Firing people to save money is expensive. Letting normal attrition take its course--through resignations, retirements or deaths--is less disruptive, and a lot cheaper.
In October (according to the most current data available), U.S. agencies lost 53,185 people through normal attrition. But in the same month U.S. agencies gained 54,691 bodies--44,791 new hires and the rest transfers or rehires. Some diet!
Most of the hiring was done in the Defense side of government, led by the Navy which lost 4,253 people but hired 7,663--nearly twice as many as it lost. Relatively few of the feds let go for economy reasons were rehired by Defense or other agencies that are frantically hiring while their sister units are firing.
In-house federal efforts to find replacement jobs for RIFfed workers range from excellent (a few) to poor or indifferent (the majority). Many agencies that are hiring outsiders-- some running ads in newspapers or sending recruiters around the country -- don't want anyone with the mark of RIF. They are "tainted," although economy, not worker incompetence, is the main reason for most of the RIFs.
Federal agencies plan between 3,000 and 7,000 RIFs just in the next few months. The number depends on what Congress does to budgets (the majority of which have not been cleared even though the current fiscal year is more than one-quarter old).
Although the RIFs to date have been relatively small (unless you are one of the 8,000 canned), their impact on federal agencies, morale and conduct of public business has been, in some places, devastating.
In some agencies everybody has been given a tentative RIF notice meaning 30 days hence they may be fired. Many face unpaid furloughs. Not a very good way to run a business, particularly an important one like the U.S. government.
There is a relatively simple solution. President Reagan could do it with the stroke of a pen: Slap a limited freeze on hiring.
The freeze language could be worded so that agencies would have to get a waiver from the Office of Personnel Management--saying that no RIFfed or about to be RIFfed worker is available, qualified or willing to take the job--before they could hire outside.
Such a freeze would not stop all new, outside hiring. But it would give qualified people who are losing or about to lose their job a chance to stay in government rather than becoming unemployment statistics.
The alternative is to keep firing, and hiring. The main reason agencies are in a budget bind today is because they are still in the dark on their budgets. Congress has failed to clear some budgets for this already-4 1/2-months-old fiscal year. There is no guarantee when it will act.
At some point very soon agencies that have been holding off RIFs will have to begin them. The longer RIFs are delayed the worse they become. Some agencies that RIF late in the fiscal year will have to fire five to seven times as many people as they would have had they taken action earlier.
It doesn't make sense to hire more than 1,400 people every morning and then turn around and make 21 economy dismissals every afternoon. Shell games like that are considered silly, even in carnivals.