- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

When it comes to the chopping block, Uncle Sam and corporate America do it differently.

In the private sector, downsizing often is done quickly. Meanwhile, Uncle Sam takes his time, which can be a real plus for those involved.

Workers in agencies about to be downsized, right-sized, reshaped, reinvented or contracted out (all valid reasons for buyout and early retirement offers) usually know something is amiss months before it happens. Agencies must get approval from the Office of Personnel Management and Office of Management and Budget to permit workers to retire earlier and/or get pre-deductions buyout payments of $25,000.

In addition to the bureaucratic grapevine, which can be fast and accurate, most feds have the choice of a dozen publications and Web sites — some agency- or industry-specific — that track things like reorganizations, downsizings, buyouts and early-outs.

For example, the General Services Administration has been planning mergers in functions that are supposed to make a profit via sales of goods or services. Sharp feds and union leaders looked at the new agency budget, shrinking profit margins and put two and two together and got: reduction in force, buyouts and early-outs.

The National Federation of Federal Employees union said it got an agency briefing about job cuts being considered. According to in-house GSA gossip, some expect an announcement to the troops today of job cuts, buyouts and early-outs.

Under federal layoff rules, the last hired are generally the first fired. Longtime employees, especially those with veterans preference (meaning they earned it by military service) are considered virtually exempt from firing. That means if their jobs are abolished, they can “bump” short-service personnel and non-veterans out the door.

The Clinton administration set up the buyout program so that its “diversity gains” — a concerted effort to hire minorities and women — could be preserved. The buyouts and early-outs were targeted to longtime employees so that the last-hired-first-fired rule wouldn’t wipe out diversity gain numbers. It worked.

In some instances, this opened up the clogged promotion pipeline to young people who otherwise would have been the first to hit the street. It could happen again, and sooner rather than later.

Several agencies aside from the GSA are likely to announce buyouts and early-outs now that they have their budget numbers from the White House.

But unlike corporations, where downsizings are often overnight deals, most of the feds will have plenty of early warning.


W. Robert Pearson, a 30-year career diplomat and U.S. Navy veteran, retired yesterday as the State Department’s director general of the Foreign Service. He served State in Europe and Asia and ended up running what many consider as the government’s elite service.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected]federalnewsradio.com.

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