Federal Civil Service: Are We Deceiving Ourselves?

I have read many a good article here, predominantly covering how to do things better. Some are practical, logical, but others are very gee whiz “pie in the sky”. However, 99% of them would require an outlay of funds to accomplish what they would do. That is the rub of the whole thing, money. And my question is: Are we deceiving ourselves? Are we deluded and hoping for something that will never occur. This year’s budget was less than last years. And, unless a miracle occurs, and the people in that big domed building in Washington, DC have outlawed bipartisan miracles, all government agencies will be taking another 15% cut in CY13 (or more). We all know that a 15% cut would end up in major RIF’s in every agency (not to mention in every other facet beside FTEE authorization). So, are we deceiving ourselves? Are we day dreaming, hoping for changes, that financially just can’t be supported and probably couldn’t be for good long time?

Is it time that instead of day dreaming and telling ourselves that life is good, rather we should be preparing for the apocalyptic sequestration and how we are going to do the work with fewer people and marginal at best funding?

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Good question – what do you think will be major areas that get hit with the 15% cut in CY13 and more? What do you see happening – RIFS, buyouts? How else affect the day to day?

Earl Rice

Well, I don’t want to be gloom and doom, and that is why I am asking this. To see what others think. But, I basically see one of four things happening:

  1. 15% cuts straight across the board. 15% fewer people, 15% less money, and Agencies going past cutting the fat, past cutting the muscle, down to cutting things to the bare bones. I have heard that there is no more money for the rest of the year for VERA/VSIP (or what is there has already been obligated). SECDEF has already gone to the House and the Senate and requested to be able to take the 15% cut selectively in their programs, “since you can’t buy 85% of a ship” (they will take the 15%, but do it with some discretion). Results would be massive cuts of 15%, and I just don’t see any way around a RIF. RIFs always get nasty. Veterans with 30% or more disability will be safe, as just about any other Veteran. And, career employees with 15 years or more will probably be safe. But after that, it is going to get very concerning. I see the Temp and Term appointments going first (especially re-employed annuitants). Then I see all the members of all the “intern programs” going next (since they were all changed to be competitive service because the interns programs were declared to have violated Veterans Preference). I also see massive hiring freezes straight across the board for all Agencies, end of statement.
  2. Congress will pass a budget, but there will still be massive cuts, maybe not exactly the 15% sequestration, but it is a roll of the dice if it will be less or more than 15%. I would put the odds on this as slim to none, closer to none. As stated bipartisan miracles have been outlawed by both parties.
  3. There will be a change in Administrations come January. But if there is, well there will still be huge cuts, probably in every agency except VA and DOD (though they will take cuts also, but it will not be as massive as the rest).
  4. There is not a change in Administrations. Think there will still be cuts, probably massive in some agencies (DOD will take heavy hits in this scenario, unless a conflict with Iran occurs).

Basically, the American people have this image that the Federal Government is severely bloated beyond what is needed to do the job. Whether it is or not is irrelevant, it is what the majority of the voters think. I know back home in Oklahoma, as far as cuts in the Federal Government, the majority of the voters are saying “bring it on”. Likewise, there is the question of funding. In short the United States just can’t afford to keep spending the way it has, or there will be a total collapse of the economy and the Government.

Sterling Whitehead

First off, let’s all calm down. An economic recovery really is underway. With that, more people are getting jobs, meaning more people pay taxes, meaning more tax revenue comes in. Yes, there will probably be some cuts, but probably not 15%. There is reason to be optimistic.

Earl Rice

Sterling, thanks for the comment, that is what I am looking for is comments.

I know the economist are split between things are good, and thing aren’t any better, if not worse. They seem to be split more along party lines on this. And, the employment rate, some say it is down, and others say it is closer to 20% and it really isn’t any better, it’s just looks better because people have run through their unemployment and dropped off the rolls, or just gave up looking after they have lost everything they had. This split also seems to be along party lines. There is so much spin going on out there, that everything is under a gimlet eye to try and sort out what are the real facts. I think about all we have left is gut feelings. I want to thank you again for the comments, and hope to have more. I am in hopes that someone, or the majority can debunk the scenarios I see possible.

Mark Sullivan

Important topic. Even if an improved economy brings increased tax revenues, they will likely be absorbed by the increased cost of entitlement programs and debt servicing. Not only do we need to think about what we don’t do, but how we can do our most important work differently. Can we lower our overhead costs through shared services. Can we leverage our programatic efforts through partnerships across departments and jurisdictions? Can other partners, including nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, and even private enterprises do the work more effectively and efficiently than us? How do we engage citizens in developing solutions rather than relying on our own expertise? We should probably look to doing our core work better, before we expand into new endeavors.

Jerry Rhoads

My opinion is that we need to get rid of the duplication of efforts (why does each agency need its own clearance), identify and eliminate inefficiencies, and share resources accross the government. My two cents!

Debbie Hopkins

Yet, has anyone noticed there are a few agencies that are completely unconcerned about money and budgets? How is that so?

Earl Rice

I thank you all for the comments. They bring out some of the issues that may need to be addressed in what I will call a post January 1, 2013 time frame. I think Mark started a very real issue that could be followed up on. There is so much duplication. Debbie, I have noticed that some Agencies are hiring like crazy, especially in the DC area, and others have a hiring freeze so tight that it is at an absolute zero degres Kelvin.


There was a big study on duplication in federal government that found a lot of opportunities. The hard part is actually doing it and I think agencies need to have incentives or be forced to make those tough choices

Julie Chase

Earl, no gloom and doom, just a dose of sheer “reality” in GovLoop. It’s a whole different world outside the fishbowl.

On your points:

Cutting the fat. Not going to happen. Where the RIF’s “do happen” are down at the lower feeding GS and WG level. It’s about ripping out the “foundation” from under you, and then house collapses. Vs. cleaning out the attic of useless junk to the curb. RIF’s are nasty, BRAC’s are worse. Been there done that. EX: two workers committed suicide because for the last decades of their lives they have worked on ships….and that is all they know..working with their hands and their back. On the GS side of the house, when a Vet bumped a 20 + career non-vet supervisor, the non-vet brought a gun to work the next day. Yeah, it gets real ugly.

Students, young college educated employees….yep, good-bye Charlie and Charlotte, you are outta here. And for the most part in DoD, DoN, that ship has sailed, because young grads from experience want nothing to do with the “unsettling” experience of civil service. Oh and the new Pathways Program, yessiree, that will be going to court before it even gets off the ground.

Hiring freezes, yes, going on right now. But as Debbie pointed out, “here are a few agencies that are completely unconcerned about money and budgets?” That is true. While our sub agency is short close to 75 employees (we cannot hire, period, at all, end of sentence), our tenant command and our larger “sister” MC regional are hiring daily as we speak. Hmmmmm, interesting.

2. As long as the “extremists” on both sides of the ailse cross their arms and shout at each other, nothing will get done, period. It is the “independents” that need to speak up and say, “Enough of this already”.

3. Should there be a change come January, it will just another day to the people turning off the alarm and heading to work, or turning off the alarm and heading out to look for work. Neither side is a friend to the government worker.

4. Should a change not come in January, see #3 above. As far as a conflict in Iran goes, it would be foolhardy to even think of such a thing. It’s time we left the Middle East to the Middle Easterners, we have more problems to deal with here at home. Defend our borders, keep our money in the US, do not make loans to countries who cannot pay us back. Get our house in order before start insisting there should be a Mickey’s D’s or Wallyworld on every street corner in the world. Close the bases in Europe, we are wasting money there.

Earl, my experience is….the citizens of this country are not angry at civil servants like me, or those outside the beltway, their anger and outrage is towards those “inside” the beltway. We are told, “Go green, go paperless, buy bio based cleaners, solvents, etc. But they are clueless, because they have no idea how much it costs an organization within an agency to follow these mandates, and no funding to up the budget to pay for these “green”initiatives are forthcoming. Use bio fuels in all government vehicles, go hybrid, go flex fuel, go all electric. Yes, there is a directive, yes, there is a gov vehicle procurement policy. Where I am there is, but check around DC at all the pretty dark color SUBURBANS with govvy plates driving civil servants around. This is what taxpayers “SEE” and wrongfully assume, it’s like that everywhere. How many staffers does the under secretary of the under secretary of the assistant to the assitant need? Really, and you want to RIF a GS04 making less than $25,000.00 a year in on a small military installation so you can “save” money? Really…….time for the “rose color” glasses to come off.

Earl Rice

Wow, Julie, though I agree with many of your remarks, I was trying to be a little more subtle. But, maybe a good dose of reality is needed.

But, folks, keep up the comments.

On the Pathways Program, I think it will be DOA, which is why OPM hasn’t released the rules yet. It’s almost too late to use it this year. Almost all the Vet Groups (and Unions) already have their lawyers ready to take the program to MSPB and have it outlawed as violating Veterans Preference (just like the Federal Career Intern Program before it, and the Outstanding Scholar Program before that, and all the other direct hire programs that were used to get around Vet’s preference that were outlawed before that).

David Dejewski

• In 2011, US GDP grew by 1.5%. China grew by 9.5%. Source.
• The US public debt is $8,975,409,041,096 or $29,053.53 / person, or 61.2% of GDP. Source.
• China’s debt is $949,111,232,877 or $709.35 per person, or 17.3% of GDP. Source.
The Global Competitiveness Report for 2011 / 2012 reports some other significant scores as follows:
• Public trust of politicians: US (3.23) / China (4.21)
• Government Efficiency: US (3.98) / China (4.17)
• Government Policy Making: US(4.51) / China (4.73)
• Pay and productivity: US (4.91) / China (4.73)
• Soundness of Banks: US (4.8) / China (5.33)
We could go on, but the bottom line is that the US fell overall again this year to #5 in world rankings. Our debt and our ability (or lack of ability) to deal with it is a huge indicator of what our future holds.
A great summary can be found here. Lot’s of authority throughout this program. I doubt we’re going to be so lucky as to see 15% cuts when the cutting is done.

Julie Chase

Earl, you are correct about the Pathways Program. David Dean was on GovLoop awhile back and made a promise, if Pathways comes to light, he and his followers will be in court. In the meantime there isn’t a program for young folks in college, nor is there a program for recent grads. Oh and did I mention the hiring freeze and wage freeze? Pathways has a 2 yr time line. If you graduated say in May of 2011 and the program starts in June of 2013, too bad, so sad, you don’t qualify. So “recent” grads cannot count on that and are going elsewhere.

Gov right now to those toiling outside the beltway is: Go green, use bio, it’s mandated! Great idea! Great innovation! Until your organization has to “pay” for it. And worse yet, do as I say, not as I sign the directive and hop in the gov supplied mondo SUV (with a driver no less) and head to “lunch”….however long that takes. My lunch is 1/2 hour, yours??? Yeah, I thought so.

Some, are deceiving themselves.

China is doing well, because of US corporate greed. Maybe if we stop policing the world and nation building, perhaps we could set our sights on what is really important…getting our house in order.

Yes, ideas cost money, lots of it. Then it’s regulated to death.

It has been discovered that “outsourcing” is not the cure all of gov spending it was supposed be, so let’s RIF everyone at the bottom of the food chain, BRAC the US bases and start over. So if we are ever threatened again, we’ll be standing there looking for someone or something to blame.

Wow, innovation at it’s finest. :o{

I believe if you want to impart innovative ideas for the government and it’s workforce, go in with your “eyes” wide open and know that your thoughts will be dissected and compounded heavily with regulations and directives. Your idea may never look the same again.

As far as working with fewer people and marginal funding….we have been doing that for over 2 yrs now.

Dick Davies

You have made a really good point, especially on an internal site!

I went to a speech earlier this week, where the speaker laid out a) that we couldn’t afford current health care, and b) we didn’t have enough doctors. His solution was automated kiosks for initial screening, noting that one good assembly team could do the work of a trillion doctors, which would neatly take care of both a) and b).

I think there is a similar situation already occurring in government, where business processes are changing to favor automation, rather than civil servants.

What about inaccurate diagnosis by machines? About the same as inaccurate diagnosis by humans. The patient has to learn to tell good from bad.