How Federal Budget Cuts Hurt Inclusion

It is story that has played out across the federal government since the Carter administration. An outsider presidential candidate wins the election by running against the very federal government they seek to be part of. Their initial order of business is to shrink the size of the federal government workforce first by attrition, reductions in force and a drip drop reductions in human resource investments.

The corresponding response to this threat by federal agencies is to protect their employees as best they can by cutting soft skill services that support their development and training. Since they cannot touch their core services with the budget knife, they go after programs like human capital, leadership development and diversity and inclusion. They bow to the god of transactional engagement because at the end of day, budget decisions are about the work. They sacrifice transformative engagement for their employees who at the end of the day, end up not being the most important line in the organizational work chart.

The first slice of the federal pie to go when it comes to deficit reduction is diversity. External recruitment becomes almost invisible as funds dry up for outreach to underrepresented communities. Recruiters attend fewer employee conferences. Financial support to Historically Black Colleges, Tribal Colleges and other minority serving institutions disappear.

The effort to recreate our federal agencies into an image where we do not look like, talk like, act like and think like our taxpayers and the customers we serve, dilutes the business case for diversity and inclusion. Such an approach would never be considered in the private sector where diversity and inclusion outlays are seen as part of the daily business.

The cut first and ask questions later approach to saving taxpayer dollars severely impacts the federal government’s ability to recruit millennials and generation Z’ers whose current paltry representation numbers in the public sector are nothing to write home about.

It also disproportionately impacts diverse gen y’er and gen z’er employees already in the federal government since most cutbacks are based on the “last hired, first fired” approach. Lifers and military veterans tend to avoid the pain of the budget reaper’s scalpel.

According to the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results which serve as the basis of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government beauty contest, the percentage of workers under the age of 30 and 25 have been steadily decreasing at the federal level since 2010. These draconian disinvestments in human capital will continue this trend that adds to a federal brand that says, “Young people need not apply.”

A let’s put our “people last principle of human resources management” hastens the retirement decisions of baby boomers and traditionalists who are thinking to themselves, “It is time to get the hell out of Dodge.” It puts extra pressure on those of us left behind as we watch years of experience and institutional knowledge walk out the door.

What happened to the federal approach that our employees and customers are our most valuable assets? When did we fall victim to the notion that our national security is more dependent on building more nuclear weapons instead of investing in the public servants of today and tomorrow.

We are already a divided country. Making us less diverse and inclusive will divide us even more. We are the red, white and blue nation. To keep us that way we have to have an infusion of green. We say we want to be more diverse and inclusive. It is time to put our money where our mouth is.

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