Deficit woes still put jobs on the line

Federal workers

January 13, 1993|By Ellen J. Silberman | Ellen J. Silberman,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- The days of attacking "bloated government may end next week when President-elect Bill Clinton is sworn into office, but advocates for federal workers say pressure to cut the budget deficit means the effort to thin the ranks of civil servants is still on.

During the presidential campaign, Clinton promised to eliminate 100,000 government jobs through attrition and to slash each agency budget by 3 percent.

Testifying before a Senate committee Monday, Rep. Leon Panetta, Clinton's nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget, said every proposal to cut the budget deficit was still "on the table." And last April, Panetta, D-Calif., sponsored a bill that would have cut the total number of federal employees by 5 percent.

There's also pressure from Democrats and Republicans to trim the federal deficit by trimming government.

Democrats weighed in with an essay on "Reinventing Government" by David Osborne, a fellow of the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank associated with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Osborne's essay recommends cutting 200,000 federal jobs through attrition and cutting some agency budgets by as much as 6 percent.

And Reaganites also have had their say. This week, Donald Devine, former President Reagan's first director of the Office of Personnel Management and an adjunct scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation, sent Clinton a letter urging him to start his presidency by instituting a total hiring freeze.

Advocates for federal workers are glad to see the Reagan-Bush-Quayle team leave town. They consider Clinton and Vice President-elect Al Gore people who will work with the federal unions and try to reinvigorate government. They're trying to be optimistic. But the deficit looms and they expect to have to fight for their workers.

"I'm optimistic but pragmatic," said John Sturdivant, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees. Ever watch 'Star Trek?' I'm keeping my shields up," he said, referring to the popular science fiction television show.

Sturdivant, whose union endorsed Clinton, has worked with many of the president-elect's Cabinet nominees over the years. "These folks are not strangers to us unlike a lot of the people in the Reagan administration," he said, giving high marks to Ron Brown, tapped to head the Commerce Department, Rep. Mike Espy, D-Miss., nominated for secretary of agriculture, and Robert Reich, the designated secretary of labor.

"We like [Mr. Reich's] desire to make the federal government a model employer," Sturdivant said.

And he wants to be out in front when Clinton starts talking about changing the structure of government. He refuses to talk about the status quo and he sees the pressure to cut federal workers as an impetus for much-needed change. "I don't think we'll disagree over mission. We'll disagree over method," Sturdivant said.

He already has offered Clinton suggestions on how to trim government costs without hurting government workers. His advice: "Don't try to use a quick fix" like an across-the-board hiring freeze because that will leave jobs that bring in revenue unfilled. For instance, at the Social Security Administration, there should be more disability review officers -- not fewer. Sturdivant said there are millions of dollars getting away from the review officers because the department is understaffed.

Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executive Association, which represents high-level federal administrators, also opposes "quick fixes" that lead to "hollow government."

"There is a point beyond which you cannot do more with less," she said. Bonosaro would like to see the Clinton administration look at every program and every agency to see what works and what doesn't before making cuts in personnel and budgets.

"Be up front" and make the hard decisions, she says.

Despite the pitch for making the tough calls, Bonosaro won't single out any programs herself. She says senior executives know which programs work, and will help guide the new administration.

Her advice for the newcomers: Middle managers don't deserve the "bad name" they've gotten in the last several years. They shouldn't be targeted for cuts.

Sturdivant, of course, disagrees. He'd like to see several layers of management collapsed.

L But the key for both him and Bonosaro is spreading the pain.

"We don't mind sacrifice as long as everybody sacrifices. Business, labor and everybody else," he said.

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