For more than a year, cash-strapped agencies across the government have been offering buyouts and early outs to reduce their payrolls. Several of those agencies said it’s better to cut the rolls voluntary to avoid messy, morale-killing layoffs, or reductions-in-force for those who speak government-ese.
But at today’s Excellence in Government conference, a common refrain emerged: The dreaded RIF may be unavoidable — and may even be a better tool for managing the workforce than buyouts and early outs.
“The R-word — RIF — has its place, because it is the most surgical,” said Ron Sanders, the intelligence community’s former chief human capital officer. “I know that sounds harsh. I don’t mean it to be. But if you’re trying to protect critical skills, that’s an option you can’t take off the table.”
Reginald Wells, the Social Security Administration’s CHCO, echoed Sanders in a later session at the conference, sponsored by Government Executive:
Most of us in the human capital world would probably rather not go there, if we can avoid it. I hope not. But I don’t think you can afford to invalidate any legitimate tool. If you tinker around the edges and you still end up with a problem, when you could have had a reduction in force … if you can just sometimes make a cut, and be done with that particular problem, you’re better off.
The problem with buyouts and early outs, Sanders said, is that agencies have limited control over who will leave. There’s no guarantee the people an agency is trying to get rid of will take the offer, Sanders said. And there’s a risk that, unless the offer is narrowly targeted, the agency could lose some vital employees.
A RIF “sometimes does the least harm,” Sanders said. “But these things take time to heal.” The IRS’ remaining workforce was still talking about their 1995 RIF six years later, he said. And those left behind sometimes experience survivor’s guilt.
Wells stressed to Federal Times that SSA is not considering RIFs, and said he hopes other agencies will be able to make it through the current budget crunch without having to take that step.
But with federal agencies already stretched thin, sequestration looming, and current and former HR officials openly discussing the possible necessity of RIFs, could this be the next shoe to drop?
Public Service Recognition Week — traditionally a week to recognize the good that government employees do for the nation — comes at a dour time for federal employees this year. House Republicans are intent on cutting their take-home pay by 5 percent. President Obama has proposed his own 1.2 percent pension contribution hike. Cash-strapped agencies are scrambling to cut their workforces. Pay has been frozen for two years, and a third may be coming down the line. And GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is swiping at their “unfair” pay and benefits.
How do you feel about being a public servant right now? Have the constant attacks and anger against federal employees demoralized you? Are you feeling less effective in your job? Or are you thinking about getting out of government service altogether?
And if you’re a manager, has the anti-fed atmosphere made it more difficult to manage your office and accomplish its mission?
The latest pension processing stats from the Office of Personnel Management contained an interesting nugget on retirement trends. Namely, that they’re continuing to rise in 2012, after shooting up 24 percent in 2011.
It’s not hard to figure out why. Agencies are offering federal employees buyouts and early outs left and right to deal with limited budgets. And with Congress constantly threatening to further freeze feds’ pay, increase their retirement contributions, or switch to a high-5, many feds are beating a path to the door.
Federal Times would like to hear from you about the still-increasing retirement trend, and how it touches you. Are your co-workers dropping left and right lately, and is that hurting your agency’s ability to get its mission done? Or are you yourself planning to retire soon, and why?
Write me at email@example.com if you’d like to talk. I’m interested in hearing from managers as well as rank-and-file employees. If you want to stay anonymous, that’s fine.
The Office of Personnel Management this year plans to more than triple the amount of federal employees invited to take the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. More than 1.8 million permanent feds — both full-time and part-time — will be surveyed beginning in April, OPM said in a memo sent to agencies Jan. 20 and posted online today.
That’s a lot, but — and maybe I’m just picking nits here — it isn’t quite the full, governmentwide census OPM is touting, since there are roughly 2.1 million employees in the federal government (not counting U.S. Postal Service employees).
OPM said it doesn’t plan to hold such an expansive survey every year, but “having large numbers of respondents will allow agencies the opportunity to analyze results and develop action plans at lower levels in the organization this year.”
Last year’s survey, which was answered by about 266,000 feds, showed satisfaction dropped in key areas and suggested budget battles were starting to take a toll on morale. The 2012 survey could show whether that trend is continuing — and is a major cause for alarm — or whether it was just a fluke.
What do you think? Are you feeling more or less satisfied than you were last year?
#3 Job Title: Criminal Investigator
Agency: National Archives and Records Administration
The National Archives contains billions of documents and items that make up our nations cultural and political heritage. Presidential letters, military documents and even secret stuff regular folk like us cannot see (except perhaps Nicholas Cage). And sometimes people take documents from those archives and try to sell them.
The investigators comb the Internet, follow up on tips and travel to places such as Gettysburg, Pa., to look for documents, gather tips and educate traders at antique shows. Civil War documents are a ripe area for people trying to profit from government records, as there is high interest in items from that war.
Every so often, a news story about the team’s efforts bubbles to the surface, most recently when IG officers teamed with the U.S. Marshals Service and the Montgomery County, Md., police department in a raid on a former Archives employee’s home, seizing boxes of documents.
That’s right. Taking back those documents. So if you have ever watched “National Treasure” and thought to yourself, “I could definitely do a better job tracking down our nation’s documents, then this might be the career for you.
#2 Job Title:Bartender
Department:Department of the Army
So you have probably already heard of this job. But not for the Army, perhaps. According to the job title, the bartender “Operates a small full-service bar, mixing and serving the full range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.”
Sounds about right.
#1. Job Title:Biological Science Tech (Bison)
Agency:National Park Service
So there is nothing about this job I do not like. You travel across Yellowstone National Park (by ski, snowshoe or snowmobile) and use radio telemetry to locate buffalo/bison in rough terrain. You take notes about their locations and take biological samples for later study. You work in field laboratories and will assist in studying the vital statistics of individual bison.
And you will also have to watch out for grizzly bears. Seriously. Bears. (Here’s a full quote)
WORK ENVIRONMENT: This work is performed primarily outdoors, in cold conditions with ice and snow, with bison, elk, wolves, and coyotes very likely to be encountered, with a possibility of grizzly or black bears.
I can only imagine the job looks something like this…
Federal Times would like to hear from federal managers on what they use to evaluate employees’ performance. Specifically, what kind of software tools or programs come in handy when you’re tracking someone’s progress and deciding how he stacks up to the goals you set at the beginning of the year? (You are setting those goals, right?)
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to talk. If you’d prefer to speak off-the-record or on background, that’s fine.
Just 737 out of more than 1.2 million General Schedule employees were denied their step increases and accompanying raises for poor performance in 2009, as Federal Times’ exclusive investigation found. Senior writer Stephen Losey talked on Monday with Capital Insider’s Morris Jones about what this shows about the government’s performance management problems:
I’ll be appearing on the TV show Capital Insider this evening to discuss the government’s inability to hold poor performers accountable. As we reported last week, only 737 out of more than 1.2 million General Schedule employees had their step increases and accompanying pay raises withheld for reasons of poor performance.
Critics of the GS system say this is a clear sign that the government has a hard time disciplining people who can’t or won’t improve, and think the system needs a radical overhaul.
And I’m still interested in hearing from managers about this issue. If you’d like to share your thoughts on what is wrong with the government’s performance accountability culture, e-mail me at email@example.com.
The numbers are in, and it seems pretty clear that the government has a problem disciplining its poor performers. As Federal Times exclusively reported Tuesday, only 737 General Schedule employees — less than 0.06 percent of the GS workforce — did so poorly in fiscal 2009 that their step increases were withheld.
Those numbers confirm what’s long been known through anecdotal evidence and employee surveys: Slackers aren’t held accountable in the federal offices. The reasons why are debatable. Unions say the problem is with poor managerial training. Others say the system is biased against managers, who are tied up in bureaucratic knots and afraid of getting caught up in appeals for months.
Federal Times would like to hear your thoughts on the subject. Are you a manager who has tried to withhold a step increase from a poor performer, but been stymied by the system? Were you intimidated against trying, or did you feel like it just wasn’t worth the effort? Or do you think you need more training on performance accountability? How do you handle poor performers in your workplace, and what changes are needed that would make it easier for you to hold them accountable?
Or if you’re an employee, are your bosses unwilling or unable to crack down on your colleagues who aren’t cutting it? What do you think is the problem?
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts. If you’d like to talk anonymously, that’s fine.
A fellowship program that sends U.S. government officials to work in Japanese government offices is still accepting applications, despite the nation’s recent earthquake and accompanying tsunami and nuclear emergency.
The Mike Mansfield Fellowship Program — named for the former Montana senator and ambassador to Japan — is accepting applications until April 1. Each year, the program awards two-year fellowships to as many as ten officials. Participants spend one year intensively studying the Japanese language and receiving additional training and then another year working full-time in Japan, and are expected to spend the next two years working on Japan-related projects in the government.
The program is meant to give participants “practical, firsthand experience with Japan and its government,” as well as proficiency in Japanese to make them more effective. And with millions of Japanese people still struggling to get back on their feet after these tragedies, it’s safe to say they’ll need all the help they can get. The online application can be found here, and further details are here.