Some agencies could see staff gains in 2011

Budget request would grant TSA 2,000 more officers. Budget request would grant TSA 2,000 more officers. Greg E. Mathieson/Landov
President Obama's budget proposal forecasts a dip in the overall size of the federal workforce in fiscal 2011, but employee advocates remain optimistic about pockets of potential growth.

The Obama administration estimated that the federal workforce would lose 42,600 employees between 2010 and 2011, falling from 2.15 million to 2.11 million. Even with that decline, the workforce would be substantially larger than it was in 2007, when the government employed 1.83 million civilians.

One big source of the next year's decrease is the Commerce Department, which would go from 141,500 full-time employees to 43,600 as the 2010 census wraps up. The Agriculture and Interior departments, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Railroad Retirement Board also are slated for small staff cuts.

Despite the downward trend, Obama's budget would allow some agencies to bolster their workforces.

The Pentagon would experience the most growth, seeing its civilian staff rise from 720,200 in 2010 to 757,500 in 2011, driven in part by the administration's decision to insource 19,800 civilian jobs.

The Homeland Security Department would receive the second-largest staff boost of the Cabinet-level departments, going from 177,000 employees in 2010 to 183,500 in 2011. Included in the increase would be 2,000 additional Transportation Security Administration officers and an unspecified number of new Customs and Border Protection personnel. Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents TSA and CBP employees, said the 2011 staffing levels would "reflect the reality of today's dangerous world, and are wise investments in our nation's security."

The Justice Department stands to gain 5,700 positions from 2010 to 2011, going from 119,300 to 125,000 employees. Much of that increase would benefit the FBI, which would see its staffing rise by 1,331, from 31,578 employees in 2010 to 32,909 in 2011. The number of employees in the U.S. Marshals Service and legal staff also would grow.

Additionally, the budget would provide for more workers in federal prisons. "The imminent threat that understaffing has posed to federal correctional officers, prisoners and the communities that surround the prisons has become a dangerous matter of life or death," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which has been campaigning for more staffing and more rigorous security measures in federal prisons. "Proper staffing will help alleviate the dire situation."

AFGE also praised modest proposed staffing increases at the Veterans Affairs Department, where the workforce would rise from 284,300 in 2010 to 287,700 in 2011 under Obama's request.

The only other department slated to gain more than 1,000 employees in 2011 is Health and Human Services, where staffing levels are set to rise from 65,100 to 68,000. The majority of that increase will come from a spike in hiring at the Food and Drug Administration.

But even a small increase in staff would be welcome at some agencies. Gabrielle Martin, president of the National Council of EEOC Locals, said she hopes an $18 million hike in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's fiscal 2011 budget would help reverse a 25 percent decline in the agency's workforce during the past decade.

"EEOC finally admitted that doing more with less has hurt operations," Martin said. "It is imperative that EEOC use the increase to hire and train an adequate number of front-line staff who directly serve the public.…This does not mean using federal sector pilots to reduce the number of front-line hearing judges."

And even in agencies that suffered high-profile program cuts, such as NASA, where Obama proposed eliminating efforts to return explorers to the moon, employee groups saw some reason to hope. The administration's fiscal 2011 budget set a goal for 2010 of converting 60 percent of students working for NASA into full-time employees after they earn their degrees. Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said his union "looks forward to working with the Obama administration and Congress on … fostering the creation of new high-quality aerospace jobs for young Americans."

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