House panel approves bill to shrink federal workforce

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., sponsored the bill. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., sponsored the bill. DOUGLAS GRAHAM/NEWSCOM
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would reduce the federal workforce through attrition by 10 percent over the next three years.

In a 23-14 vote, the panel approved the measure, which calls for hiring one federal employee to replace every three workers who retire or leave their job, shrinking the workforce across-the-board by 10 percent by 2015. The bill was amended to include the contractor workforce as well as government employees. There are about 2 million federal employees and the contractor workforce is roughly 10.5 million.

H.R. 3029 would make exceptions for certain national security concerns or any event that threatens public health or safety. The attrition policy would stay in effect through Sept. 30, 2014. The proposal also includes a provision that limits procurement on service contracts to supplement the reduced workforce "except in cases in which a cost comparison demonstrates that such contracts would be to the financial advantage of the government." Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., the bill's sponsor, estimates the legislation will save $139 billion over the next decade.

In recent days, federal employee groups have publicly opposed the legislation through letters to the committee and press releases. "The bill undermines critical government services for the American people, ranging from defending our borders to safeguarding our food and drugs to assisting taxpayers and processing tax refunds," National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley said. "The list goes on and on. Yet, this legislation fails to consider the negative impact on those services."

The Government Managers Coalition, composed of the five major federal sector executive and management professional associations, wrote a Nov. 2 letter to committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., expressing concern over the impact downsizing the government will have on agencies' ability to serve the public. "A reduction in the size of the federal workforce could well amount to a reduction in vital services Americans expect on a daily basis," the letter stated. "Past efforts to reduce the civil service carried out during the Clinton administration resulted in an immediate deterioration of service to the public, leading to the hiring of contractors to make up for lost work."

During the committee's markup Thursday, Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., suggested changing the bill to allow the government to hire two employees, rather than one, to replace every three workers who retire or leave. Issa said he didn't have any "inherent objection" to that number and pledged to work with Cooper on a figure as the bill winds its way through the House. "We have a little headroom in the 10-year window," Issa said, referring to the savings the bill's supporters claim attrition will produce over the next decade.

Opponents of the legislation complained that a 10 percent across-the-board reduction in the government workforce was arbitrary and did not take into account such critical services as law enforcement or those provided to veterans. "I don't think it's a good management principle," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who voted against the measure.

Reducing the federal workforce through attrition was also a recommendation of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, created by President Obama and led by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson from Wyoming and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.

During an Oct. 26 hearing of the joint congressional super committee on deficit reduction, Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf mentioned the effect a smaller federal workforce could have on government operations. "Having fewer federal workers would probably lower the levels of service that federal agencies provide to the public, unless cuts in the agencies' workforces were accompanied by actions to enhance productivity," he said.

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