Federal Officials Say Privately They Are 'Pretty Certain' Layoffs Are Coming

Agencies are asking OPM with help to RIF, assist workers to find new jobs.

Federal agency managers are privately telling members of the Trump administration they will soon lay off employees, according to Office of Personnel Management officials, and are seeking advice for how to do so in the most effective manner.

Agencies are “pretty certain” they will need to institute reductions in force as they aim to satisfy an executive order from President Trump and ensuing guidance from the Office of Management and Budget, said Leslie Pollack, deputy  associate director of OPM’s HR Strategy and Evaluation Solutions, on WJLA’s “Government Matters” program. Those documents required executive branch agencies to reorganize themselves and, in the process, cut the size of their workforces. Pollack’s office, which provides human resources consulting to federal agencies, has assisted officials across government looking at “closing down or realigning functions.”

“They are coming to us specifically and saying ‘I’m pretty certain I need to run a reduction in force,’ and that is one area where OPM and our group in particular has some expertise in helping agencies...to take a look at their situation and actually execute according to the restructuring rules and all the policies and procedures that are in place,” Pollack said. “So we’re definitely getting those questions.”

OPM is even helping agencies prepare to assist their employees in finding new jobs.

“We spend a lot of time working on communications, the relationships with supervisors and employees and transition assistance such as resume writing, mock interviews, things like that,” said Jason Parman, OPM’s HR Strategy branch manager, “so that folks who are impacted by these restructuring actions, they’ll be prepared for the next opportunity.”

Parman added the “human aspects of restructuring” are “easily overlooked,” and people whose livelihoods are affected will have to “transition with or without that agency as the agency moves forward.”

OMB required agencies to turn in preliminary, high-level strategies by June 30 that spelled out near and long-term plans to trim their rolls. The administration advised agencies to begin implementing workforce reduction strategies immediately, noting “achieving associated personnel reductions takes time to implement and realize savings.” Most laid off federal employees qualify for severance pay, which is calculated based on length of service and age. OPM updated its RIF guidance in March. OMB told agencies to streamline policy making, revise their organizational designs, conduct data-driven workforce analyses and ensure technology has not rendered any job functions irrelevant, as they determine which jobs to eliminate.

Several agencies have already begun offering their employees separation incentives, a task with which OPM has assisted by setting up a dedicated team to expedite the approval of incoming requests.

Broadly speaking, Pollack said her office has fielded three types of questions from agency clients: how to close down functions or realign their employees; how to examine their processes in order to reduce the number of employees performing them; and performance management, a major piece of OMB’s guidance. OPM is helping agencies move away from pen-and-paper based evaluations, which Pollack said often becomes a “pain point” that distracts from the actual work of communicating with employees about their performance. By providing agencies with a platform that automates some of that process, supervisors can better focus on having meaningful conversations with employees.

Parman said the heaviest lift for agencies as they implement OMB’s guidance will be the rules and regulations associated with getting smaller. “Agencies typically don’t have a lot of consistent experience with those,” he said.

OMB is reviewing the preliminary agency reform plans and will work with leaders to issue final proposals by Sept. 30. The administration plans to formally provide those plans to Congress early next year when it submits its fiscal 2019 budget proposal.