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.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.