Clinton orders federal agencies to give jobs to welfare recipients Government downsizing among obstacles to his goal

March 09, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton ordered yesterday that federal agencies set an example for employers across the country by hiring welfare recipients.

Clinton did not set numerical goals, but he directed every federal agency to do all it could to recruit and hire people on welfare.

He gave agency heads 30 days to present detailed plans. And he said Vice President Al Gore would supervise the effort.

"Government can help to move people from welfare to work, by acting the way we want all employers to act -- demanding high performance from workers but also going the extra mile to offer opportunity to those who have been on welfare but want to do something more with their lives," the president said in his weekly radio broadcast from the Oval Office.

Like many initiatives announced in Clinton's Saturday radio addresses, the one announced yesterday combines political symbolism with substantive policy. Most federal agencies are shrinking, and there are relatively few openings for inexperienced workers with low skill levels.

But Clinton said the federal government, the nation's largest employer, "must do its part and set an example" for private employers, whom he has repeatedly prodded to hire welfare recipients.

The president encouraged federal agencies to hire welfare recipients as "worker trainees." Such hiring authority exists under current law but has not been widely used.

Welfare recipients who do well as trainees could, after three years, "join the Civil Service," Clinton said, and obtain permanent government jobs.

The worker-trainee program began in 1973, when the government had difficulty filling clerical jobs.

A summary of the president's plan issued yesterday by the White House says, "This program offers a quick and easy way of hiring entry-level people into the federal work force and bypassing complex federal personnel hiring rules and procedures."

Labor unions said they did not have enough information about the president's plan to analyze it.

But the unions said they were concerned that federal agencies might give preference to welfare recipients, permitting them to bypass the normal competition with other applicants for low-wage jobs in the Civil Service.

The new welfare law, which ended the 61-year-old federal guarantee of cash assistance for the nation's poorest children, requires most adults to work within two years of receiving welfare benefits. Many states have set stricter work requirements.

Clinton said federal agencies should notify low-income employees of their eligibility for the earned-income tax credit and help them find affordable child care and transportation.

His initiative faces formidable obstacles because the federal government is not hiring many people.

The president boasts that he has reduced the number of civilian employees in the executive branch by 13 percent, to 1.9 million, the lowest level in 30 years, and he promises that the federal work force "will continue shrinking" as he tries to balance the budget by 2002.

He has repeatedly urged business executives to hire welfare recipients. Companies such as Sprint, United Airlines and Burger King have accepted his challenge.

But until now, aides to Clinton had no answers when asked why the White House and other government offices were not making similar efforts.

James B. King, director of the federal Office of Personnel Management, recently gave Clinton a report outlining steps that could be taken to encourage the hiring of welfare recipients by federal agencies.

King said that any federal effort to hire welfare recipients had to come "from the top down," from the president and Cabinet officers.

Every federal department except the Justice Department has shrunk since Clinton took office in 1993.

In the past fiscal year, the government hired 200,915 people, but 71 percent of them got temporary jobs.

The federal government lists hundreds of job openings at its Internet site (http: //www. usajobs.opm.gov). Job listings are updated daily but include few entry-level positions.

Nationwide, the government lists only 11 openings for nursing assistants, six for clerk-typists and nine for mail and file clerks.

The administration often promises to work in partnership with federal employees, but it apparently did not have extensive discussions with labor unions before Clinton announced his plan.

Magda Lynn Seymour, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 federal workers, said yesterday, "We would hope that the administration would consult with us on hiring welfare recipients."

Seymour said she doubted that the government could hire many welfare recipients "because of the inflexible structure of many agencies and the fact that the government is downsizing."

Pub Date: 3/09/97

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