A bipartisan group of area congressmen has sharply criticized the government's job placement efforts on behalf of laid-off federal workers, contending that job-hunting services have been haphazard and ineffective.
During two days of hearings that concluded yesterday, Virginia Republican Reps. Stanford E. Parris and Frank R. Wolf, Maryland Democratic Reps. Michael D. Barnes and Steny H. Hoyer and D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy complained that the government has not been aggressive enough in finding new jobs for federal workers who have become the "innocent victims" of the Reagan administration's budget cuts and layoffs.
About 360,000 federal workers are based in the Washington area, and the five lawmakers, who represent a region that has been hit twice as hard by the layoffs as anyplace else, testified that they had received numerous complaints from constituents about faltering placement services.
Defending the government's placement programs yesterday, Donald J. Devine, director of the Office of Personnel Management, told the Manpower and Housing subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations that dislocations among federal workers had been far less than initially predicted and that those who lost their jobs received adequate placement assistance.
"I have no knowledge of any agency which has significant problems with out-placement," said Devine, who reported that agency and OPM programs had found new jobs for 7,756 former and current federal employes "who otherwise might have been unemployed."
But Parris, testifying Tuesday, said many personnel officials and out-placement coordinators in charge of job-hunting counseling are either too inexperienced or "more accustomed to hiring people than placing them in other jobs" to be of any real use to employes suffering through a reduction-in-force (RIF).
And Wolf, focusing on what he said was a lack of coordination in placement services, said longtime federal workers were being forced out one government door without knowing whether another might be open in government or the private sector.
"The right hand is not talking to the left hand," Wolf said. "They placement coordinators don't look across the hall or across the town, and that's happening in agency after agency."
The Federal Government Service Task Force, chaired by Barnes, reported in December that nearly 12,000 full- and part-time federal workers had been laid off in the previous 18 months--4,727 persons during fiscal 1981, and an additional 7,118 during the first quarter of fiscal 1982, which began Oct. 1.
Barnes said yesterday that women had borne 44.7 percent of the reported 3,411 layoffs among full-time workers and minorities had borne 34.7 percent, although they make up 33 percent and 23 percent, respectively, of the total federal workforce.
Subcommittee members, led by chairman Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.), yesterday questioned Devine about OPM's recent decision to reduce regional affirmative action staffs because of budget cuts. Devine said such programs could be better managed from Washington, but Barnes and others said the shift would hinder the collection of data to monitor such programs.
Raising an additional issue, Hoyer and Barnes argued that RIFfing federal workers is the wrong approach when attrition could accomplish the same government reductions with far less trauma.
Citing President Reagan's announced intention to cut 75,000 more workers from the government payroll, Hoyer said the normal yearly attrition rate of 10 percent (about 200,000 people) could easily meet this goal if handled properly. And Barnes said his task force hoped shortly to introduce legislative alternatives to RIFs.
On Tuesday, the Department of Justice in particular was singled out for criticism when two employes from its Justice System Improvement Act agencies charged it had wasted $1.2 million to fire 50 workers there while consistently rejecting union proposals to improve out-placement and establish a priority rehiring list for displaced workers. A Justice spokesman said the agency is readying a priority rehiring program, and Devine promised the subcommittee he would look into the allegations.
Although the Department of Defense has not been affected by current RIFs, it was held up as a model for placement services developed during earlier cutbacks. And yesterday Barnes praised the Department of Health and Human Service's Public Health Service branch in Rockville for finding other jobs for a l but 144 of 1,500 workers who faced dismissal.
One practice that did not win approval from the subcommittee is the government's habit of sending out general RIF notices to whole departments before specific dismissals have been decided. Dismissing Devine's defense that employes needed to be forewarned, Collins complained, "You place the fear of God into them in hopes they'll go and find employment elsewhere."