One out of every three civil servants eliminated during the 1994-1996
federal downsizing effort was a manager, according to a new Office of
Personnel Management report.
Of 122,271 positions downsized during the two-year period, 43,841 of
those were supervisory positions. Proportionally, supervisors were
downsized twice as frequently as non-supervisors, according to the
report, which detailed the downsizing efforts of a cross section of
OPM conducted its review of downsizing in two phases from June to
October 1997. In addition to collecting data, OPM received employee
input and attempted to gauge how well agencies followed merit system
principles during downsizing. During Phase I, OPM distributed surveys to
1,170 managers, supervisors and employees to obtain their downsizing
views. Phase II included on-site visits to 21 agencies.
When agencies use merit system principles during downsizing efforts,
OPM expects the following outcomes:
- Agencies plan strategically to achieve budget and staff
- Strategies are employed to help surplus employees find other jobs.
- Affected employees are properly and effectively moved into new
- Mission accomplishment and customer service are enhanced through
improved use of available resources.
OPM's research, however, found that not all agencies are following
merit system principles, and therefore are not achieving the desired
outcomes. Most agencies, OPM found, ignored the strategic planning
aspect of downsizing because of budget pressures and, in the Defense
Department's case, base closures.
"Urgency to meet staffing levels drove most agency downsizing
decisions," the report said. "The majority of installations
took an across-the-board approach to downsizing with little or no regard
for the long-term impact on the ability to carry out the mission
considering such factors as core responsibilities and skills
Still, agencies were able to achieve sizable reductions in their
workforces without resorting to massive reductions-in-force (RIFs). From
1994-1996, voluntary early retirements (also known as early outs)
totaled 57,163 and voluntary separation incentives (also known as
buyouts) totaled 99,079. RIFs totaled 26,644.
Agencies are helping surplus employees find alternative employment,
but that job is becoming increasingly difficult due to fewer placement
opportunities, according to OPM. Employees were not satisfied with
Only 25 percent of employees and 35 percent of managers felt the job
placement assistance provided to surplus employees was extensive. Only
21 percent of employees and 24 percent of managers felt that their
agency had implemented effective programs to retrain employees for new
Of the 15 human resources offices visited by OPM, only four indicated
that training is a high priority. As a consequence, only 23 percent of
managers surveyed said the right person is assigned to the right job.
OPM also found that agencies did not devote adequate attention to
ensuring surplus workers a smooth job transition. Most managers and
supervisors surveyed said they did not recognize that downsizing
"survivors" need any sort of special support or assistance
after placement. Only 33 percent of managers and employees indicated
that employees assigned to new positions as a result of downsizing were
made to feel welcome. A few study sites like NASA and the Naval Warfare
Center, however, had official greeters assigned to welcome new
Downsizing has contributed to immediate staff reductions, but has not
significantly enhanced customer service or mission accomplishment, OPM
found. Only 10 percent of employees indicated that downsizing efforts
have produced an organization that is more productive and better
equipped to do its job.