Drop in projected retirements puts Bush management cuts at risk

President Bush's campaign promise to eliminate 40,000 federal management positions over eight years will be harder to achieve than administration officials originally expected. At a campaign stop in Philadelphia in June, Bush promised that, under his administration, 40,000 of the 80,000 mid- and senior-level federal managers who were expected to retire in the next eight years would not be replaced. In addition, Bush's 2002 budget proposal called for undoing excessive management layers by converting high-level positions into "front-line, service-delivery positions." But fewer supervisors and managers will retire over the next eight years than the Bush team had estimated, according to Office of Personnel Management projections. OPM estimates that 72,913 of the 182,618 front-line, mid- and senior-level supervisors and managers in the federal government will retire from 2001 to 2008. Even if half of those people were not replaced, the Bush administration would fall short of its de-layering goal by more than 3,500 managers. Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels recently told members of the interagency Budget Officers Advisory Council that errors in the Bush team's initial assumptions about retirements might make de-layering harder to accomplish than administration officials originally thought. In a May 8 bulletin to agency chiefs on the de-layering initiative, Daniels did not mention the 40,000 goal, though he did instruct agency leaders to develop a five-year plan to "reduce the number of managers … and redirect positions within the agency to ensure that the largest number of employees possible are in direct service delivery positions that interact with citizens." Daniels also told the budget officers in March that the de-layering initiative "is not about hitting numbers," according to minutes of the meeting. He also said that cutting management positions may be important in some agencies but not in others. Carl DeMaio, director of government redesign at the Reason Public Policy Institute, said the lack of a numerical target in the May 8 bulletin does not mean that Daniels is backing away from the Bush campaign target. "It's a positive sign that they're not trying to put an unreasonable goal down," DeMaio said. "The administration is telling agencies to take a strategic look at their workforce needs. … [OMB is] not going to force an outcome by saying, 'you have to have a cut of X amount of positions.' They are saying, 'do a strategic look.'" The Clinton administration attempted a similar effort by ordering agencies to eliminate management positions and put supervisors in charge of more employees. Clinton's National Performance Review found that the average federal supervisor oversaw seven employees-and ordered agencies to increase the span of control to one manager for every 15 employees. According to Office of Personnel Management statistics on full-time permanent employees, there was still one manager for every seven employees in 2000-and that does not include team leader positions. Team leaders are employees with limited supervisory responsibilities. Many agencies turned management positions into team leader positions during the 1990s. Many federal employees complained that team leaders continued to perform most management duties. In some agencies, managers complained that supervisory cuts went too far, leaving them with too many employees to oversee, reducing the quality of their work. "There's always room for some cutbacks and de-layering," said Rosslyn Kleeman, distinguished executive-in-residence at George Washington University and former director of workforce issues at the General Accounting Office. "But I'm not sure it's always in this middle layer where everybody seems to be identifying that it's much needed. De-layering has to be based on real planning and a real forward-looking examination of an agency's needs and budget." --Jason Peckenpaugh contributed to this story.
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