RIF on This If You Can

RIF on This If You Can

RIF on This If You Can

A mostly political weblog.
March 7 2009 9:22 PM

RIF on This If You Can

Those worried about whether the Dem stimulus plus Obama's budget will produce an irreversible, costly, increase in the size of government --potentially crowding out future expensive Democratic initiatives such as universal health insurance--won't be cheered by this Washington Post story . Estimates of the additional federal workers soon to be hired range from 100,000 (from Prof. Paul Light)  to 260,000 (from the Heritage Foundation). For example:

Officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs ... said they expect to hire more than 17,000 new employees by the end of the year, many at hospitals and other facilities to fulfill Obama's pledge to expand veterans' access to health care. The agency -- whose budget will grow by 11 percent, to $56 billion, under Obama's plan -- will add about 7,900 nurses, 3,300 doctors, 3,800 clerks and 2,400 practical nurses, spokeswoman Josephine Schuda said.

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That's just one agency. ... And what if in the future we decide to shrink the veterans' health system in order to save money and beef up the system for the rest of the population? Good luck. My impression is that the average citizen has no idea how difficult it is to get rid of federal workers once they have been hired . Here are the relevant rules for federal "reductions in force," or RIFs, complete with elaborate rights of employees with seniority to "bump" lower level employees, causing a chaotic cascade of job switches. Ronald Reagan came into office with a huge head of steam to cut the bureaucracy. He succeeded in RIFing the equivalent of fewer than 80,000 full-time non-defense workers--105,000 counting all part-timers--a reduction that didn't last long. (Here's a Heritage report on the subject.)

Couldn't a future administration, faced with budget deficits, just freeze hiring and let attrition reduce the work force? Sure, if you want the best people to leave and the worst (i.e., the least likely to get private sector jobs) to stay. What about contracting out ? Contractors can always be terminated, after all, without the complications of  civil service rules. And contracting out was certainly the option favored by recent administrations, including Clinton's. Alas, the Post notes

Obama's insistence that he would scale back the use of private-sector contractors.

AFSCME will be happy. No wonder Washington, D.C. real estate is already starting to come back .** ...

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P.S.: This generalized federal bloat, and not "earmarks," looms as the real disaster of Obama's first budgets. If an Alaska senator sticks in an earmark for the Bridge to Nowhere, at least the taxpayers are likely to get a Bridge to Nowhere. If we increase the Department of Transportation budget and they hire a new Human Resources coordinator, what does that get us? ...

P.P.S.: Here's a not-atypical argument for hiring new civil servants:

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents workers in 31 federal agencies, said the administration appears to be "rebuilding workforces that have not been properly maintained and supported."

At the Internal Revenue Service, she said, "there are hundreds of thousands more taxpayers today than there were 10 years ago, and there are 27,000 fewer employees." [E.A.]

Too bad there were no increases in computing power during those 10 years that, in every other industry in America, allowed fewer white collar employees to process more paperwork! ... Seriously, imagine someone at G.E. or PayPal making this argument. "Help! We're handling more paperwork now with fewer people than a decade ago!" They'd be laughed at, if not RIFfed. ...

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 **--This sentence originally said "Washington, D.C. real estate isn't suffering." While D.C. apparently did relatively well in the real estate bust  compared with other cities, and has emerged in better shape , prices have still dropped sharply and continuously since 2006. ... The forecast for the D.C. labor market is also substantially better than for other regions of the country . ... [ Thanks to reader J.S. for the correction .]  8:01 P.M.

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Did Dr. Sanjay Gupta really say he opted out of the Surgeon General's job to 'spend more time with his family' ?  ("He has removed himself from consideration to focus more on his medical career and his family.") Doesn't he know the phrase is a punch line, not an explanation ? ... And won't he be spending pretty much the same amount of time with his family, since he's, you know, not changing his job? ...  7:59 P.M.

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Has L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa accidentally revealed the real reason why politicians are worried about the decline of the MSM ?

I have press conferences where reporters don't show up anymore - it's just (TV) cameras. It's scary ....A regular day would be six, seven cameras ... (Now) you get five on a great day ... [E.A.]

And what if the cameras go away too? It would be tragic if Villaraigosa had to figure out a way to govern other than by feeding the MSM a diet of staged events. ...  7:54 P.M.

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