The Trump administration’s plan for its general hiring freeze to be only a first step in downsizing the federal workforce is raising questions regarding whether any reduction goals could be met by normal attrition alone, as the freeze memo anticipates, or whether RIFs might be needed. The memo ordered OPM and OMB to produce within three months “a long-term plan to reduce the size of the federal government’s workforce through attrition”; after that plan is implemented, the memo will expire. However, that reduction plan could itself call for a continued general freeze, while setting a specific goal of reducing the workforce by a certain percentage over a certain period–possibly along with, on the more positive side for workers, buyout and early retirement offers. Past proposals from Republicans in Congress–including one sponsored by the nominee to head OMB, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.–have sought a 10 percent cut over several years, allowing for general exceptions for national security jobs and for filling one of three vacancies created by turnover elsewhere. OPM figures show that there is about 10 percent turnover every year: just-released numbers covering fiscal 2016, which ended last September 30, show 197,386 separations from an executive branch workforce of just under 2.1 million, counting all types of appointments and work schedules but excluding the Postal Service and intelligence agencies. That turnover was about 3,000 fewer than the prior fiscal year, however, and turnover has decreased each year since fiscal 2011, when the number was just above 222,000. Of those leaving in fiscal 2016, 74,447 quit, 63,817 retired, 45,168 did not have temporary or term appointments renewed, 10,519 were fired, 3,172 died and the rest separated for various other reasons. (The retirement number is about 3,000 below the average of the prior five years even though the government supposedly is in the midst of a retirement wave of baby boom employees.) While the total turnover figures are substantial, federal personnel experts note that attrition is not spread evenly across agencies or across occupations, creating inefficiency and extra work for those left behind. They add that assuming the long-term plan extends the general hiring freeze with the current exceptions and the ban on contracting for replacements, a large part of the workforce would be exempt, requiring any overall percentage cut to fall more heavily on the remaining portion.
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