Andy Hagan, a GS-12 who once prided himself on writing child welfare regulations that "helped the states and the kids," works at a new government job these days, grudgingly poring over audit reports from firms that received antipoverty grants.
He's never had an accounting course in his life.
Across town, in the agency where Hagan used to work, Robert Foster, Gerri Minor and Helen Duran also struggle to assume new duties. Foster has been moved out of the Federal Council on Aging and is helping to manage Project Head Start, the federal program for low-income preschoolers. Minor, a $36,000-a-year GS-13 legislative analyst has just been relegated to the filing chores of a GS-5 administrative clerk. Duran has had to abandon seven years of day care expertise to help plan programs for the elderly.
"I have absolutely no background in aging--none--but here I am," she says, making no attempt to hide her bewilderment.
And Kee McFarland, once the government's leading authority on child sexual abuse but now looking for work in California, says she still gets about 10 telephone referrals a day from her old office, where her job has been abolished.
Along the vast hallways and narrow connecting corridors of the Office of Human Development Services, a relatively small but important arm of the mammoth Department of Health and Human Services, Ronald Reagan's determined crusade to cut the size and the scope of the federal bureaucracy is beginning to be felt.
To date, only 44 of the agency's 1,400 employes have actually been subject to "involuntary separation," as dismissals are known in the euphemisms of the civil service, but the impact of the campaign cannot be measured in those numbers alone. Roughly a quarter of the agency's personnel--350 persons--has been downgraded or reassigned, "a crippling game of musical chairs," as one manager puts it, that has resulted in weeks of turmoil and left a legacy of bitterness and shattered morale.
In the name of cutting fat, agency officials have thrown stunned day care specialists into programs on aging and experts on aging into programs for native Americans, yet fired one woman after 32 years because the only job she had ever held was as a statistical analyst. Highly paid analysts and policy reviewers have been turned into secretaries and administrative clerks, and specialists with years of experience have been scattered about government offices with little or no regard for job performance, program needs, educational expertise or career interest.
In dozens of interviews with a wide range of agency employes and managers over the past three weeks, opinions differed on the ultimate effect of "Reagan roulette" on the Office of Human Development Services and its $5 billion worth of programs affecting the aged, the handicapped, native Americans, child welfare and family services. But the "Reductions in Force," or RIFs, carried out in the office raise serious questions about the way the Reagan administration has gone about fulfilling its promise to take on the bureaucracy.
"If someone had to think of a way of reducing the size of government that totally disrupted the ongoing work of government, that costs the taxpayers money rather than saving it, that pitted employes against each other and against management, they couldn't have come up with a device more pernicious or ingenious than current RIF procedures," argues Robert Honig, staff director of the Federal Government Service Task Force, a congressional group that has been monitoring the RIFs.
Critics both in and outside the agency point to what has happened as an example of how the the RIFs have been used to accomplish what Congress has yet to approve--the wholesale scaling down and eventual transfer of federal programs to the states. That is a key component of President Reagan's New Federalism, and in many ways the Office of Human Development Services is a symbol of the type of government his administration doesn't want, a place described by the conservative Heritage Foundation as "a haven for a wide range of social theorists whose views are, at bottom, antithetical to the pro-family principles upon which a conservative administration must be based."
Dorcas Hardy, the tough-minded assistant secretary for OHDS who was Reagan's assistant secretary for health during part of his California governorship, conceded in a recent interview that the RIFs in her agency had caused some temporary disruptions that good managers would just as soon avoid. But the 35-year-old administrator said that, even with the RIFs, "I still think we can provide good services in places where we're supposed to have a government role."
She said her office had tried hard to reduce the overall impact on its employes and that now she hoped "the troops" would settle down.
To many of the "troops," however, such assurances have a false ring. Professionals dedicated to their field, they feel the cuts have more to do with politics than streamlining government or improving services. And, because Civil Service regulations largely favor seniority rather than quality, even longtime government employes complain the RIFs haven't given Reagan "a magic brush" that assures that only the best people stay while the "deadwood" leaves.
"The whole thing is just a crock, it's just a body count," complained a program specialist in family services who is now a clerk typist in another office. "Attrition and a hiring freeze would accomplish the same thing, but it wouldn't be as politically dramatic."
The loss of seasoned employes--many of whom previously spent years in similar state and local programs--is keenly felt, said one manager a few weeks after implementing the RIFs. "It's like building a house and someone comes in and blows it up. It will take me seven months to straighten out what's happened."
The rumors of impending cuts began circulating last summer, and became stronger after OHDS' budget for the 1982 fiscal year was drawn up by HHS in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget. It was based on the assumption that many of its programs--Foster Care, Adoption Assistance, Child Welfare Services, Child Welfare Training, Child Abuse, Run-Away Youth and Developmental Disabilities-- would be consolidated into a Social Services Block Grant to be turned over to the states, thus greatly reducing the agency's staffing needs.
Congress refused to enact much of the block granting proposal, but OHDS employes were alarmed when the agency did not adjust its budget request and personnel ceilings to reflect continued program needs. And their fears appeared to be justified when agency officials on Oct. 27, issued general RIF notices warning that a fifth of the staff (250 to 300 employes) would soon be fired, with two to three times as many downgraded and moved to other positions.
"The anxiety symptoms ranged from laryngitis to hives . . . you feel you're no longer of value, that you have no control over your career," said Beverly Stubbee, a child welfare policy supervisor in OHDS' Administration for Children, Youth and Families.
Numerous employes were told outright by their supervisors to start looking for a new job, but Stubbee said her biggest distraction from work was not job-hunting--which she put off because "I wanted to wind up what I was doing for the people taking over"--but comforting the rest of her staff.
"They were panicky. The ones who expected to be going were full of anxiety; the ones who were staying were full of guilt," said Stubbee, 56.
Sources within the agency say HHS quietly sought permission from the Office of Management and Budget to increase its OHDS proposal once Congress rejected the block granting provisions. "But OMB did not go along with it," said one OHDS official, mainly because, according to an OMB spokesman, "we still felt they were a little on the fat side." By the time the revised federal budget was back on the Hill, OHDS was telling employes that it did not intend to ask for any additional money.
"The president is most concerned about the entire federal budget, and as a presidential appointee I was not going back to Congress," Hardy explained, adding that she agrees with Reagan's view that government as a whole is too large.
Hardy and her aides say now that aside from budget concerns, the agency was also under an HHS and OMB directive to trim its personnel ceiling from 1,507 positions, including vacancies, to 1,229, a figure later increased to 1,260. They also note that a 27 percent cut in discretionary grant funding and the block granting of Title XX funds for social services employment and training meant they needed less people to administer some of their programs.
Fearing for their jobs as well as the programs they were sure would be crippled by such staffing cuts, concerned OHDS employes formed a RIF Committee in early November and started issuing bulletins about the situation. Working with the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 41, the union that represents most of the Washington area employes at HHS, the group hired an attorney and began lobbying Congress to restore about $4 million in the administration's proposed $63.1 million OHDS budget for salaries and expenses. By December, letters from concerned lawmakers were hitting the desk of HHS Secretary Richard S. Schweiker.
Joe Cook, Local 41 president, credits the lobbying effort-- particularly the letters to Schweiker from Sens. Mark O. Hatfield and Harrison H. Schmitt--with helping to postpone and blunt the administration's initial RIF plans. He says, and OHDS officials agree, that the final dismissals, downgradings and reassignments were about half of what the agency had initially projected.
"We were concerned about the human impact, of course, and the effect on employe morale," said Cook, 35, who thinks Congress might have blocked more of the cuts if it hadn't been in such a rush to adjourn for Christmas. "But we were even more concerned about the programmatic impact, the services to states and people that were going to be hurt, and, frankly, that turned out to be a much better political argument on the Hill."
On Jan. 4, the agency issued specific RIF notices in which 160 individuals were told they were being dismissed, and others were given the details of their demotions and reassignments. For some, the news was expected, particularly by those with less than 10 years of federal service. Still, numerous employes report being shocked by the official notification, not believing it could happen to them.
And there were more than a few ironies. One man got his RIF notice a week after his wife, a nurse on the ward where President Reagan was hospitalized after an assassination attempt, received a Christmas card from the White House. Another worker was given a coveted Distinguished Service Award from the department, then was transferred out of a program he loved and into a temporary job in an unrelated field. Still others had begun to look forward to being RIFfed--and getting sometimes hefty severance from the government--only to be told at the last minute that they were being kept on, though usually in less professional jobs.
About 15 OHDS staffers were saved from hitting the streets by a transfer to the Office of Community Services, the agency that replaced the defunct Community Serivces Administration. But once there, they found themselves trying to inaugurate the new antipoverty block grants without benefit of telephones on their floor--a situation that has taken weeks to clear up.
Even those who count their new jobs as career-building experiences have some misgivings. "I come in and have to learn everything, but the person I bumped had been doing the job very adequately," said Head Start's Bob Foster. "I'm concerned that the program I have stepped into will not have the quality of leadership until I get sufficient knowledge."
Working out of three federal buildings in Southwest Washington, OHDS employes sit in tiny cubbyholes or partitioned offices, surrounded by posters and photographs that seem to bind them to the programs and people they care about.
On a wall near nursing home specialist Sue Wheaton's desk at the Administration on Aging, for instance, is taped a poem with these gentle words: "Blessed are they who understand my faltering step and palsied hand; . . . Blessed are they who never say, 'You've told that story twice today.' " Yet she finds it hard to be very upbeat and mentions two former colleauges, Ann Zimmer and Pat Hodson.
Zimmer, who spurned a new assignment as a GS-4 clerk typist to take a job at NIH's Institute on Aging, was the office's only expert on geriatrics mental health. Hodson was the woman who signed off on the availability of grant funds on aging programs and the one Wheaton says she relied on "to give us a quick financial fix on a situation."
Hodson landed temporarily at the Office of Community Services and has since found a permanent job at the Department of Defense. "I feel like I just took a master's degree (in gerontology) and flushed it down the toilet," she said recently. Her replacement doesn't know the programs and relies on Wheaton to explain the differences in types of Older Americans grants.
Top managers in Aging, the Administration for Native Americans and the Administration for Children, Youth and Families--three key divisions in OHDS--admit the RIFs cost them some good and valued staff and will necessitate some reorganization in headquarters and the regions. But despite these difficulties, they say the work is being done.
They note, additionally, that the changes taking place in the agency are consistent with "the action" moving more toward the states.
Many former and current OHDS employes, however, say they are now learning new duties they often don't care very much about or else are patiently breaking in new staffers who don't know the programs or office procedures.
Some see the RIFs as the tool of a self-fulfilling prophecy: mess up the programs and then get rid of the programs for not doing a good job.
"I'm tying up loose ends in a defunct bureaucracy, and it's not the type of work I want to be doing," said Andy Hagan, 31, who is helping to close out the grants paperwork for the dismantled Community Services Administration. He'd rather be at OHDS' Administration on Children, Youth and Families, where he helped write regulations for the new child welfare law.
He complained that the two-year delay in issuing the rules has left a half million kids "rot in foster homes because Reagan's people don't wanbt to do any intervention. They think the states and localities can do it better--I wish that were true."
Renee Greenfeld, a licensing and protective services specialist, spent 16 years in the child welfare field only to be RIFfed out of the federal government because she had little Civil Service seniority. She wanted to stay to help implement the law, noting, with a shudder, that one state "is so far behind what's happening in the child welfare area that, if the child becomes attached to the foster family, they move the child."
Kee McFarland, a 34-year-old child sexual abuse expert, said her RIF and one other effectively wiped out the professional capability to run a federal clearinghouse for information on sexual abuse and domestic violence.
Her supervisor and associate chief of the Children's Bureau says McFarland "asked to be RIFfed" in order to get severance. McFarland says she had planned to take a short leave to write a book and volunteered to be separated only after being told her job position was being abolished.
But leaving, she said, was "gut-wrenching . . . I spent many a night, all night, working in that building. I cared so much. I still do."
McFarland's former colleagues say they miss her, too. And in another office, that sense of interdependence on coworkers now gone is described further by Fran Holland, who works in Aging's management and policy office and was almost RIFfed herself despite 10 years of government service.
"Pat McCormick, the woman who was doing program initiatives on housing for the elderly, is gone, and we simply haven't been able to work on housing," said Holland. Economist Tom Davis and Debra Pontisso, a presidential management intern, were "invaluable" in the work they did on economic development for the elderly in the private sector.
"We've lost expertise that will be years in the remaking, if ever," Holland said. "We're not going to be able to hire an economist with the years and background on the Federal Council on the Aging that Tom had or the Hill contacts and excellent overview of policy affecting the aging that Debbie had.
"And Pat? We're not getting anyone to replace her let alone anyone with her combination of skills. She was a PhD in social research who had worked in the private sector and had additional expertise on aging issues. That patch that was Pat has been ripped out of here--we can try to mend around the edges but the hole is still there and that weakens the fabric."
McCormick, 47, was reassigned to OHDS' Administration on Developmental Disabilities, with the same title of program analyst.
Davis, 31, came to the government right after receiving his doctorate in economics. Caught up in evaluating programs on the Older Americans Act, he took a special interest in elderly employment. Now in a temporary job that ends next month, he's not sorry to be leaving government service. "I've done my five years, and the market outside for an economist is still there."
Pontisso, 28, one of the former OHDS workers assigned to temporary jobs at the Office of Community Services, is worried that the RIFs "weed out new people and new ideas, so you've got no one for the future. Even the people with experience say they like our energy."
The RIFs also "weed out" a disproportionate share of the government's blacks and women, according to one congressional survey. John Skinner, the first black male in all of AoA, went from being its associate commissioner for research and development, supervising a staff of 20 people, to a temporary job as director of a three-person policy review office at the Office of Community Services.
Having had years of experience in city, state and private-sector health and aging programs, Skinner, 41, is now job-hunting.
But no matter where they end up or how much enthusiasm and willingness they have to make the best of it, most RIFfed workers have still had their sense of self-esteem shaken.
"If you were a gourmet cook and worked at Dominiques," said former OHDSer Jane Delgado, a psychologist now working on block grants at the Office of Community Services, "and all of a sudden you were sent to a bean factory . . . you may make the best beans around, but it's not the same."