Editorial

Job cuts won't cut it

Thomas R. Temin

When opponents used to hurl what for them were eternal truths at Ronald Reagan, he would answer with an amused, 'There you go again.'

Now, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential candidate, has proposed cutting 40,000 to 80,000 federal midlevel and senior management jobs through attrition [GCN, June 19, Page 6]. To that, I say, 'There you go again.'

Where do candidates come up with their numbers?

Using attrition to reduce the payroll ranks up there with establishing zero-tolerance as an enforcement policy. It's the lazy alternative to thinking through a problem and making hard choices.

This is neither an endorsement nor a knock against either candidate because when it comes to running against the federal work force, both parties must take equal credit.

But Bush should consider a couple of facts:

n'First, under the Federal Activities Inventory Reporting Act, anything not inherently governmental theoretically can be outsourced. Outsourcing requires contracts, often complex and long-term ones.

n'Second, an alarming number of federal managers are eligible to retire within five years. It takes experience to plan and manage big contracts, the kind of experience possessed by the very people headed for the door.

Put these two facts together, and it becomes clear that it is the midlevel and upper-level managers that government needs to retain.

Promising big cuts in the federal bureaucracy continues the not-so-subtle undermining of confidence in the government employees' ability to do anything right. Perhaps that's a concern only to career federal officials. But it oughtn't be. It should matter to candidates because the better the skills and morale of the federal work force, the more effectively elected officials' policies are carried out.

Bush and Vice President Gore should take a serious look at civil service reform. Neither has proposed, nor dares to propose, any significant reduction in the scope of the federal government's services, yet both still want to downsize its ranks. They can't have it both ways.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: editor@gcn.com

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