Republicans Move to Cut Federal Workforce

Now Nearly 3 Million Federal Employees

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GOP Lawmakers Want to Slash the Size of the Federal Workforce. David McNew/Getty Images

With their morale already about to bottom out, the nearly 3 million civilian employees of the federal government now face two Republican-backed bills that would eventually eliminate many of their jobs.

Taking the Forced Attrition Approach

First up to bat, Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming) introduced the Federal Workforce Reduction Through Attrition Act (H.R. 417), which Rep. Lummis says would reduce the federal workforce by 10% over the next 5 years “without forcing any current federal employees out of a job.”

Instead, the bill would allow the federal agencies to hire only one employee for every three that retire or otherwise leave service, saving an estimated $35 billion over those 5 years, according to Lummis.

Through attrition at that rate, the bill requires a net reduction of 10% -- or nearly 300,000 jobs -- from the federal civilian federal workforce by September 30, 2016. The bill would not apply to Postal Service workers, who are not exactly government employees, anyway.

“We’ve racked up over $18 trillion in debt simply because Washington has no idea when to stop spending,” said Rep. Lummis in a press release. “Attrition is a solution that requires the federal government to do what any business, state, or local government would do to cut costs -- limit new hires.”

In addition, should even one agency fail to comply with the one-for-three attrition plan, the bill would slap that agency with an immediate total hiring freeze.

“Instead of blindly filling empty desks, this bill forces agencies to take a step back, consider which positions are crucial, and make decisions based on necessity rather than luxury,” said Lummis, adding, “Real, productive job creation takes place on Main Street America, not in the bloated federal government.”

Finally, concerned that the agencies would try to “backfill” their departing employees by simply hiring even more costly third-party contractors, Lummis’ bill requires the agencies to match their reductions in employees with cuts in their numbers of service contracts awarded.

The last action on the Federal Workforce Reduction Through Attrition Act took place on Jan. 20, 2015, when it was sent to the House Committee on Oversight and Government. 

Defense Employees In the Crosshairs

Meanwhile over at the Department of Defense (DOD), where morale is even lower, the almost 770,000 civilian employees will be watching the Rebalance for an Effective Defense Uniform and Civilian Employees (REDUCE) Act (H.R. 340), introduced by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-California).

Rep. Calvert’s REDUCE Act would force the DOD to cuts its civilian workforce by a substantial 15% -- about 116,000 employees – by the year 2020 and keep it at or below that level until 2026.

According to Rep. Calvert, the workforce cuts would essentially reverse the 15% growth of the civilian DOD workforce that has occurred since the 9/11 terror attacks.

In his statement on the REDUCE Act, Rep. Calvert cites former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman as estimating that a 15% reduction in the DOD’s civilian workforce would save $82.5 billion over the first five years.

“The continued growth in our civilian staff at the DOD comes at a time when we are reducing the number of active-duty military personnel -- something is clearly wrong with that equation,” Calvert said in a press release. “Simply put, if we fail to correct this trend our uniformed soldiers, not to mention American taxpayers, will suffer the consequences.”

Perhaps even more menacing to DOD employees is that, unlike Rep. Lummis’ bill, which specifies attrition as the method, the REDUCE Act does not specify how the DOD is to cut its workforce.  

Instead, the REDUCE Act requires only that the DOD find a way to “responsibly adjust” its number of civilian workers, leaving anything from attrition to “round them up and lay them off,” on the table.

The bill would give the Secretary of Defense greater authority to consider job performance in personnel decisions and to use voluntary separation incentive payments and voluntary early retirement payments in order to achieve the required workforce cuts.

“Our current and retired military leaders have widely acknowledged the need to establish a more efficient defense workforce in order to preserve our national security posture in the future,” said Rep. Calvert. “However, actions speak louder than words and I continue to believe Congress will ultimately have to force DOD’s hand to implement these necessary changes.”

No further action on the REDUCE Act has taken place since Aug. 13, 2015, when it was referred to the House Subcommittee on Readiness. 

Federal Employee Unions Object

Labor unions are designed to protect jobs, so as you might expect, federal-employee unions strongly oppose both of these bills.

In a press release, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) President J. David Cox said the size of the federal workforce as a percentage of the total U.S. workforce had already shrunk to a level unseen since the Eisenhower administration (1953 – 1961).

Fearing the federal workforce will suffer a “death by a thousand cuts,” Cox said, “Federal employees protect Americans’ freedom to lead a decent private life without having to worry about basic necessities such as safe food and infrastructure.”

“When anti-government lawmakers talk about cutting the already underfunded and understaffed federal workforce, it’s important to ask who they want to cut,” said Cox. “Do they want to get rid of employees who care for our veterans, inspect foods, keep air and water clean, forecast tornadoes, rescue victims of natural disasters, design safe roads and bridges, find a cure to deadly diseases, conduct research on energy efficiency, keep air travel safe, protect communities from criminals, analyze security and financial risks, advance science to drive further economic growth, protect people against discrimination in employment, ensure workplace safety and security, manage defense contracts worth billions of dollars, etc?”

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Longley, Robert. "Republicans Move to Cut Federal Workforce." ThoughtCo, Dec. 2, 2016, thoughtco.com/republicans-move-to-cut-federal-workforce-3321483. Longley, Robert. (2016, December 2). Republicans Move to Cut Federal Workforce. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/republicans-move-to-cut-federal-workforce-3321483 Longley, Robert. "Republicans Move to Cut Federal Workforce." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/republicans-move-to-cut-federal-workforce-3321483 (accessed November 21, 2017).