Top-heavy titles unbalance U.S. streamlining, study says

Growth of high-level jobs undermines Clinton effort to `reinvent' government

April 05, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON John Brodman works on world energy policy for the U.S. government. Clear enough, but then there is his title.

Brodman is an associate deputy assistant secretary. And that makes his formal title "associate deputy assistant secretary for international energy policy, trade and investment for the Department of Energy."

"Try to put that down on a business card," Brodman said. "Or on one of those registration forms that ask for name and title in a small space."

Brodman takes his lengthy title in good humor, but a recent study says the government is giving more people more titles -- at a time when it's supposed to be doing some serious streamlining.

The study by Paul C. Light, founding director of the Brookings Institution Center for Public Service, found that 16 new titles in the higher echelons of Cabinet-level departments were created in the past six years of President Clinton's effort to reinvent government.

"Presidents delude themselves into thinking that more leaders equal more leadership, and that's not true," Light said. "Basically, the leaders are further and further from the front lines."

In his report, "The Changing Shape of Government," Light said Clinton had added more new titles than the past seven presidents combined.

Light's study has caught the attention of defenders and critics of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, a Clinton initiative supervised by Vice President Al Gore.

Morley Winograd, director of the project since 1997, said the government had added a few titles but had also shed tens of thousands of management employees through buyouts, early retirement and other attrition.

Data kept by the Office of Personnel Management bear Winograd out. From 1993 to last year, employees in the top five job classifications who had supervisory roles dropped from 179,183 to 136,018.

"Certainly, the emphasis has been to decrease the levels of management within agencies," said Sharon Wells, spokeswoman for the Office of Personnel Management.

But those figures do not cover the Cabinet-level positions and associated titles that Light studied. The number of people holding those titles increased from 2,408 to 2,462 in the six years that ended last year, Light's research showed.

Light noted that the increase would have been a decrease of 24 had not the Social Security Administration been spun off into its own department in 1994. Still, the Cabinet-level jobs have gone relatively unscathed in the downsizing effort.

Winograd said there are good reasons for maintaining, or in some cases adding, positions in the politically controlled Cabinet offices.

"One reason is a desire to make sure the policies of the administration are carried out through the ranks of the agencies themselves," Winograd said. In some cases, the political appointee may oversee a new program or idea, he said.

"Whatever the cause, the layering increases the distance that ideas must travel up to reach the secretary," Light wrote in his report. "It is impossible for the top to know what the bottom is doing when the bottom remains 30, 40 or more layers below."

Mark Roth, general counsel to the American Federation of Government Employees AFL-CIO, which represents almost 600,000 federal workers, said lower-level employees do not have a strong enough voice, partly because of the management layers.

Lower-level employees have been especially affected by the government downsizing. In the 15-step pay scale, there have been declines ranging from 15 percent to 39 percent in the number of employees in the bottom five pay steps, but no more than 8 percent cuts in the top five.

Pub Date: 4/05/99

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