Legislation that would make reductions-in-force a last resort by the federal government was introduced yesterday by 32 members of Congress whose federal worker constituents have borne the brunt of Reagan administration budget cuts.
The bill, drafted by the Federal Government Service Task Force and cosponsored by lawmakers from 14 states, would force agencies to explore cost-saving alternatives to RIFs through "Detroit-style" negotiations between management and federal worker representatives.
Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.), the task force's chairman, said the intent of the bill is to restore job security for federal employes and ease the "state-of-siege mentality" that he warned is having an adverse effect on morale, work force quality and productivity.
The government reports that about 9,000 federal workers, including about 2,800 in the Washington area, have been fired in the past 14 months. In addition, Barnes said, the RIF process has forced many more downgradings, reassignments and false RIF threats that could have been avoided if agencies had explored RIF alternatives.
"And when you think about it, who knows better where savings might be realized in an agency than the people who work there?" Barnes argued.
Modeled after recent negotiating trends in the auto industry, the bill would require agencies and employe unions to sit down together to look at cost-effective alternatives to RIFs. Where RIFs still appeared to be necessary, the Office of Personnel Management and the General Accounting Office would have to certify that RIF alternative discussions had taken place before an agency could order any layoffs.
If an agency and employe representatives could not reach agreement on the conduct of a RIF within 45 days, either party could take its case to independent federal panels for a binding arbitration decision within 20 to 50 days.
OPM Director Donald Devine, while noting he was glad people were paying needed attention to the RIF process, said he is "very concerned about the direction of the bill." In opposing the bill, he said it would cause major administrative problems and greatly complicate placement of federal workers.
Its pre-RIF requirements, he said, would "make the process much more difficult than it is now." He also expressed doubt that the proposed role for the GAO would be constitutional.
The task force measure, which is backed by federal union officials, has the bipartisan support of lawmakers from the Washington area, where more than 345,000 federal workers reside. Cosponsors include Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Stanford Parris (R-Va.), Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, whose proposal to set up a governmentwide job registration list for displaced workers has been incorporated into the bill.
In addition, Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), arguing that RIFs have an impact throughout agencies and the people those agencies serve, pledged to work for passage of the bill in the Senate.
Parris, who has some reservations about the arbitration provisions of the bill, said he supports the measure because "the current RIF situation is a bureaucratic nightmare."
And Hoyer pointed to one agency, which shuffled two employes of comparable skills from one end of the country to the other during a RIF, to illustrate his contention that the present system "just doesn't make sense."