Poor morale blamed on impending job cuts


August 24, 1994|By Julia Angwin | Julia Angwin,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- For every federal worker invigorated by Vice President Gore's promise to empower workers, another one is quaking in his shoes at Mr. Gore's promise to cut federal jobs.

That's the finding in a report released this week by the Brookings Institution. The author dissects Mr. Gore's plan to "reinvent government" and finds that morale is poor among federal workers.

"The threat to their jobs became the defining element of the National Performance Review for most federal employees," writes Donald F. Kettl, professor of public affairs and political science at the La Follette Institute of Public Affairs of the (P University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"They're being given conflicting expectations and incentive. They're being told to reinvent and take risks but their jobs are at risk," Mr. Kettl said in an interview. "It's difficult to ask people to take big chances when their positions are in jeopardy."

The reinventors should have focused on reshaping government to do more with less, he said. Instead, they caved in to political realities and decided to pledge specific cuts and allow the reshaping to follow.

It is the "cloud over reinventing government," according to John Gage, president of the union at Social Security Administration headquarters in Woodlawn.

Although SSA has so far been spared the knife, "You do an across-the-board cut and it just kills us," Mr. Gage said.

The National Performance Review initiative pledged to produce $108 billion in savings and cut 252,000 workers by 1999 through a myriad of measures, including streamlining operations and raising the supervisor-to-employee ratio.

Mr. Kettl writes that the original reinvention plan focused too heavily on immediate cost savings of cutting middle managers and not enough on strategies to restructure the top-heavy employee ladder.

"The 3,000 political appointees that populate the top of the bureaucracy can produce layers upon layers of officials between the president and the career service," the report states.

But downsizing has been focused on nonpolitical appointees. So the brunt of job losses seemed to be directed at the managers.

"The great unanswered question is -- will we or won't we have to [lose jobs]?" said Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, a group of top-level managers.

These managers were also excluded from the original reinvention effort, according to the report. "Managers came to believe that the National Performance Review was a two-track system, with different treatment for the unions and managers," the report states.

In response, groups such as Ms. Bonosaro's created the Coalition for Effective Change -- nearly 20 different managers' groups that have made recommendations to the vice president.

They recommended that any employee who lost a job due to government downsizing be considered for vacancies elsewhere in government.

But the coalition is still hopeful that job losses will occur through buyouts, early-out programs and attrition.

Mr. Kettl said there is no magic-bullet solution. But he said the answer will come from management support and "an effort to draw the downsizing down to a strategic level."

The end goal, he said, is "to ensure people on the front lines have an idea what they're doing this for." So far that's been lacking, according to Mr. Kettl's report.

As autumn arrives and the days shorten, the fiscal year and budget restraints also are compressed. As agencies try to clean house before Oct. 1, buyout offers are expected to start coming like leaves falling from trees.

In expectation, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has added a Buyout Watch Hot Line: 202-606-2425.

The 24-hour hot line, expected to be operating this week, will provide information on the latest agencies to announce buyout programs, explain buyout eligibility and give out early retirement information.

A voice mail system will have set answers to standard questions, while people seeking specific information can still call the Workforce Restructuring Office.

Similar services are available on OPM's popular electronic bulletin board.

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