NTEU Statement on Downsizing Federal Workforce


6/5/11: The failure to consider that federal agencies will have to shift the work of the public to unaccountable private contractors if their staffs are slashed significantly undercuts proposals to freeze or reduce the federal workforce, NTEU National President Colleen Kelley told a House subcommittee last week.

“The fact is,” said President Kelley, “that any savings generated (by such cuts) would simply be shifted to private contractors who generally cost more, are less accountable, and are unable to do the work of the federal government as well or as effectively as federal workers.”

The NTEU leader made that argument  in testimony submitted to the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, which was conducting a hearing entitled ‘Rightsizing the Federal Workforce.’

As alternatives to legislative proposals that would freeze, downsize or reduce by attrition the federal workforce, President Kelley offered reform of the federal contracting process and the return of contracted federal work in-house as better alternatives.

“By ensuring federal employees are able to compete for work with contractors on an even playing field, and identifying areas in which the government could perform this work more effectively and efficiently, the federal government will be better able to provide high-quality services, and will save taxpayer dollars,” she told the subcommittee.

Kelley noted that the Office of Management and Budget already has begun to reform federal contracting by requiring agencies to cut wasteful contract spending, reduce over-reliance on contractors and improving oversight and accountability. These efforts are expected to result in $40 billion in savings by the end of this year, she said, noting that the savings “could be used to ensure that agencies have the necessary resources and staffing.”

The lack of adequate agency staffing has real consequences for the American public, the NTEU leader said. Among her examples: staffing levels at the Transportation Security Administration are so low that baggage personnel routinely are pulled off the line to help screen passengers when lines get long, leaving baggage dangerously understaffed; the number of Food and Drug Administration inspectors has shrunk from 35,000 in 1978 to a mere 7,500 last year; and the number of Social Security disability claims, for a particularly vulnerable segment of the population, skyrocketed by 53 percent during the economic downturn to nearly 852,000, with wait times for a decision growing to 532 days from 377 days two years earlier.

President Kelley also took issue with arguments about the size of the federal government, noting that despite the increasingly complex issues the nation faces, its executive branch workforce in 2009 was almost 200,000 fewer employees than in 1968. Interestingly, she added, three cabinet departments—Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security—make up 60 percent of executive branch civilian workforce.  

The subcommittee is considering a number of bills introduced by Representatives Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Kevin Brady (R-TX), Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Tom Marino (R-PA). These bills propose downsizing and freezing the federal workforce through different formulas and complicated attrition schemes, and their authors contend the savings will be used to reduce the deficit. Unfortunately, as President Kelley pointed out to the subcommittee, the public will suffer the consequences of reduced services, and agencies will simply contract the work out to more costly private sector companies.

NTEU has opposed all of these bills, and we will continue to fight against them. Federal employees did not create the deficit. They are currently working under a two-year pay freeze and downsizing for the sake of political expediency will only hurt the nation in the long run.