Mitt Romney talks about his plan for creating jobs and improving the economy during a speech Tuesday in Las Vegas. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

Romney’s “1-for-2” system would replace every two federal employees who either retire or quit government service with one new hire.

It’s a familiar proposal, short on specifics, that’s been promoted by the GOP since the 2010 midterm elections.

After Republican victories last November, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) included the idea as part of his 2012 budget proposals and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty also adopted the proposal as part of the platform for his short-lived campaign.

In his 160-page plan, Romney argues that federal wages and benefits are more generous than private sector pay — another argument often made by Republicans and widely disputed by federal labor unions and the Obama administration.

After federal wages and benefits are aligned with “market rates,” Romney calls for replacing every two federal workers who leave government service with just one new hire:

“Since the economic downturn began in 2007, hardworking Americans across our great nation have learned to do more with less. Businesses across America have responded to harsh economic realities by downsizing operations and cutting their workforces. Yet despite widespread lay-offs in the private sector, President Obama has continued to expand the size of government. While the private sector has shed 1.8 million jobs since he took office, the federal workforce has grown by 142,500, or 6.9 percent. The President is planning for yet more federal employee job growth. His 2012 budget adds 15,000 more employees to the federal payroll.”

So how would Romney implement his “1-for-2” system? He doesn’t say, and campaign aides haven’t returned requests for comment.

None of the Republicans proposing this idea have ever detailed how they would do it. Whenever this reporter presses for details — on behalf of readers and federal workers nervous about the fate of their careers — aides have come up empty-handed.

Romney does say that his plan “would have the benefit of reducing the number of federal employees while allowing the introduction of new talent into the federal service.”

His approach “would also allow the president flexibility to allocate the new hiring to those areas where additional resources could be put to most effective use.”

So Romney, who worked for years as a management consultant, will decide which federal jobs are replaced? Or will he leave it up to budget bean counters and Cabinet secretaries?

Yes, it’s early in the campaign, and if Romney’s lucky, he has more than a year to lay out specifics. But he’s clearly adopting a plan that scores broad support among Republicans and causes great consternation among federal workers nervous to know whether their future boss plans to get rid of them.

One more point on all of this: Romney’s plan claims that the federal government has added 142,500 jobs and grown by 6.9 percent since Obama took office in January 2009. This number is in dispute — especially among Republicans trying to prove the government is growing.

As we’ve documented in this space before, accounting for the number of federal jobs and new federal hires may be done several ways, and often varies depending on the set of numbers used and the starting point chosen.

Remember that any assessment of federal employment during the early years of the Obama presidency is affected by budgets set in the final years of George W. Bush’s administration.

In this case, Romney's numbers appear to most closely align with White House budget figures released in February that said the federal workforce grew from about 1.98 million full-time workers in fiscal 2009 to 2.12 million in fiscal 2010 — a net increase of about 140,000 “full-time equivalent” positions. (White House budget figures do not represent a headcount, but rather work years. For example, two half-time workers would count as one “full-time equivalent” position.)

For more on the tricky issue of counting federal jobs, click here.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost


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