The likelihood that federal agency workforces will be “reshaped” – commonly seen as a synonym for “reduced” – continues to grow, as OPM has put out to agencies a new guide on how to conduct RIFs.

The “Workforce Reshaping Operations Handbook” does not set new policies but rather pulls together pre-existing ones and provides practical advice to agencies, most of which haven’t much used the authority in many years. It emphasizes management’s discretion over whether to have a RIF and its terms and timing, bargaining obligations, and the need to prepare in advance (the portion on just the mechanics of a RIF covers some 100 pages).

It also describes steps management can take to reduce the need for RIFs such as imposing furloughs, freezing some or all promotions and letting go of temporary employees and rehired annuitants first – along with more positive steps for employees such as reassignments, retraining them for other positions, and making early retirement and buyout offers.

The publication follows a series of White House actions pointing in the same direction, including imposition in January of a general hiring freeze to be followed in late April by a long-term downsizing plan; a preliminary budget proposal, that is to be followed by a more detailed one in May, seeking to abolish nearly two dozen smaller agencies or sub-agencies along with cutting back or eliminating numerous programs; an executive order setting the stage for a government-wide reorganization plan; and this week the creation of a new White House office to apply business principles to make the government more efficient.

The latter two actions in particular have raised the prospects that the administration will revive the long-dormant “Circular A-76” process along with privatizing certain functions in whole or in part (the backlogged VA often is mentioned as a potential target) while shifting more services to the public from in-person to online.

While the hiring freeze memo bans agencies from adding contractors to make up for the work of vacated and unfilled positions, it does not bar converting existing work to contractor performance.