As debt talks continue, feds are hiring -- and never firing 

A new analysis of federal workforce data shows that even in this time of retrenchment and downsizing, the federal government almost never fires or lays off workers.  In fact, in many corners of the federal government, it is virtually impossible for an employee to be fired. "Federal employees' job security is so great that workers in many agencies are more likely to die of natural causes than get laid off or fired," writes USA Today, which conducted the survey.

The paper reports the federal government "fired 0.55% of its workers in the budget year that ended September 30."  For the private sector, the figure is about 3%.  And for some parts of the federal workforce, the firing rate was even lower.  For example, USA Today found that federal workers in the Washington, DC area have 99.74% job security.  Some agencies, like the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, did not fire or lay off anyone in the last year.

And the federal government is not only not firing anyone; it's doing plenty of hiring.  A look at federal job listings shows that the Internal Revenue Service is looking for a deputy executive director of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, at a salary of up to $155,500 per year. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs is looking for a Gender Issues Advisor, based in Iraq, at up to $155,500 per year. The Agency for International Development is looking for three Democracy Specialists, at up to $136,771 per year.  And the Department of Housing and Urban Development is on a hiring spree for Equal Opportunity Specialists, at up to $65,371 per year, with openings in Hartford, Boston, Buffalo, New York City, Newark, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Baltimore, Miami, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Louisville, Birmingham, Jackson, Greensboro, Knoxville, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Dallas, San Antonio, Albuquerque, Omaha, St. Louis -- the list goes on and on.

Meanwhile, a new Washington Post poll focusing on the deficit-reduction talks going on in Washington asked members of the public whether they approve of various ways of cutting federal spending.  These were the choices the Post gave respondents: a) cutting spending on Medicaid; b) cutting military spending; c) raising taxes on people making more than $250,000 per year; d) raising the Medicare eligibility age; e) slowing the rate of increase of Social Security benefits; f) raising taxes on oil companies; g) raising Medicare premiums for wealthier retirees; h) raising Social Security taxes for people making more than $107,000 per year; and i) raising taxes on hedge fund managers.

The Post asked nothing about the federal workforce.  Would people support reducing its size, perhaps through the natural attrition of workers who retire, die, or leave for some other reason?  The paper's pollsters didn't ask.

Of course, with a $1.6 trillion deficit, it's clear that cutting the federal workforce would not solve the nation's debt problem.  But it could be one part of a far-reaching solution to the debt problem.  And it has symbolic as well as actual importance.  A few months ago, the blogger Mickey Kaus looked at some federal job openings, much like those listed above, and concluded:

The point is that if there were any actual sense of a deficit crisis in Washington these are jobs that would not be filled at all…That's what's so annoying about all the calls from respectable Beltwayish opinion leaders to stop cutting the non-defense discretionary budget and focus on entitlements, because 'that's where the big money is.' From one perspective, this is a rational argument. That is where the big money is. From another perspective, it looks like a tacit conspiracy of Washingtonians not to sacrifice the jobs of any of their friends, or the local economy, by any kind of actual slimming down (of the sort a private company in similar straits would have undertaken years ago). In effect, the respectable 'pivot to entitlements' position says, 'we're going to cut Social Security checks and Medicare for mid-income old people to save the jobs of $180K equal opportunity officers at the DOT.' Why not wring the fat out of government first?

Or even ask the public if they support wringing the fat out of the government.

About The Author

Byron York


Byron York is the Examiner’s chief political correspondent. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. He blogs throughout the week at Beltway Confidential.

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