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Congress, Clinton to Evaluate Impact Of Federal Job Cuts on the Workforce

By Mike Causey
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

The sex, race and age of federal workers who depart because of downsizing will depend on political factors and estimates of whether it is cheaper to fire or buy out workers. That's why an about-to-be released General Accounting Office report will give policy-makers much to chew on and workers something to stew about.

Congress and the White House are committed to large cuts that can't be done through normal turnover.

If politicians offer buyouts again, most of the payments will again go to middle- and upper-grade, longtime service workers.

The alternative, reductions in force (RIFs), could wipe out the administration's "diversity gains" of the last three years.

During that time, the percentage of women and minorities in government increased as nearly 200,000 jobs were cut.

A second, critical factor in the buyout vs. layoff debate is how well federal agencies - which want to protect the jobs of short-service workers who lack veterans preference job protection - present their cases to Congress.

So far, according to the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee (the launching pad for civil service legislation) none of those requesting buyout authority have made the case.

Here's the situation:

The last round of federal buyouts was justified on grounds that it was cheaper to pay employees to leave voluntarily than to fire them. The maximum buyout was $25,000 before deductions. The Office of Personnel Management estimated that it typically costs an agency about $37,000 to fire someone. The OPM's estimate was based on considerations such as the costs associated with layoffs, plus severance pay and unemployment benefits for fired workers. Buyouts also let agencies get rid of middle-management workers while protecting the jobs of recent hires.

The House committee, however, said the OPM's cost-of-firing estimate is too high. It noted that most of the buyouts went to retirement-eligible workers who wouldn't have been eligible for severance. The committee asked the watchdog GAO to take another look at the costs of firing vs. buyouts.