Phantom Management Cuts

Executive agencies have met congressional downsizing requirements but have failed to follow Clinton Administration guidelines to reduce the percentage of managers in government, the General Accounting Office has reported. And where agencies did reduce management slots, in many cases they did so simply by reclassifying supervisors as non-supervisors.

Nineteen of the 24 agencies GAO surveyed said they reduced supervisory positions by reclassifying supervisors as non-supervisors or team leaders. In some agencies this practice accounted for a considerable portion of their management downsizing. At NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, for example, reclassification was responsible for 41 percent of the supervisory reductions. At the Department of Health and Human Services, 28 percent of the reduction in the managerial ranks was due to reclassification.

Several agencies told GAO that the National Performance Review's announced goal of a 50 percent reduction in management positions by fiscal year 1999 was unrealistic. The NPR had recommended that governmentwide, the ratio of supervisors to employees should change from 1:7 to 1:15.

The GAO study concluded that while civilian employment in executive agencies declined about 10 percent (230,500 employees) from January 1993 to March 1996, the proportion of management to the total workforce has stayed roughly the same. That's because while agencies reduced the number of management positions substantially, they also eliminated a large number of non-supervisory jobs. In Defense agencies, the supervisory ratio went from 1:6.9 to 1:7.4, while in civilian agencies, the figures changed from 1:7 to 1:7.6. In the Defense Department, there were actually slight increases in management positions in personnel, budget, accounting, and headquarters staff.

Half the agencies GAO surveyed said that downsizing hindered their ability to carry out their missions. Agencies who planned ahead for workforce reductions felt less strain from buyouts and downsizing. Those that did not make strategic plans often regretted losing crucial employees.

One agency, not named in the report, told GAO of repercussions in its Office of Inspector General. The average grade for buyouts in the office was GS-13, the agency reported. "Employees in these grades were primarily journeyman-level auditors and investigators with a great deal of experience and knowledge in [agency] programs and the OIG's mission," GAO concluded. "It will take considerable time for remaining staff to acquire the previous level of expertise given continuing workload pressures."

Though not an explicit goal of the buyout program, the percentage of women and minorities in the government has risen slightly since downsizing began. About 52 percent of employees accepting buyouts have been white males.

The GAO study was requested by the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight to review agencies' use of buyouts and their progress in meeting the requirements of the Federal Workforce Restructuring Act of 1994. In addition GAO compared their findings with the administrations's workforce restructuring goals recommended by NPR in September, 1993. To read the full text of the report, click here.

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