Army headquarters personnel prepare for layoffs

Army officials have notified 5,600 civilian employees at the service's headquarters that they could be laid off. In a Feb. 22 memo issued by the Army's Washington Personnel and Employment Service office, all civilian headquarters employees were asked to prepare for a potential reduction-in-force (RIF) by updating their personnel records.

Army officials said the potential layoffs are part of the service's efforts to make its workforce smaller, more flexible and better aligned with field operations. They are part of a larger Defense Department initiative to reduce headquarters staff and better align personnel with new missions.

The Bush administration said in its fiscal 2003 budget request that the Pentagon would pursue a 15 percent cut in its headquarters staff, reducing civilian personnel levels slightly in 2003, from 671,800 workers to 664,600.

The memo directs Army headquarters staff to review and update their personnel records, verifying such items as their length of service, position descriptions, performance evaluations and veterans preference status. Employees were asked to provide documentation of any errors they discovered.

RIF rules require agencies to consider employees' appointment type, tenure, veterans preference and performance ratings when deciding who to lay off. In addition, under RIF rules, an employee who has been selected for a RIF-or a representative of the employee-can review retention records that have a bearing on layoff decisions.

Cooperating with the personnel record verification process is not mandatory, but is "strongly encouraged, as this process benefits you alone," the memo says.

The Army will not know how many positions the potential RIFs might affect until reviews of field agencies are completed, spokeswoman Elaine Kanellis said. The reviews are scheduled to be done by the end of March, but then the data will have to be analyzed before a final number is known.

Buyouts, early outs and Defense's Priority Placement Program will also be used to help streamline headquarters staff, Kanellis said. The Priority Placement Program is used to place workers in other federal jobs when installations or agencies close or downsize. In addition, selected headquarters staff were notified earlier this year of an opportunity to apply for buyouts between Jan. 14 and Feb. 8. Under buyouts, agencies pay employees to leave the federal civil service. Buyout applications are currently being evaluated, Kanellis said.

A spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees called the timing of the potential Army RIFs ironic.

"At a time when we're under threat we end up going after the very people that are providing the nation's defense. It was an Army personnel wing that was hit by [a hijacked] plane" in the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon, said Wiley Pearson, an AFGE defense policy analyst.