The ‘R’ Word

The ‘R’ Word

March 6, 2017 

Fired business man reads the notice of job termination

Most people do not like to think or talk about RIF and they certainly do not want to do a RIF. But – think and talk about it we must. And in some agencies, leaders may have to more than that.


Most people would rather talk about the “A word”  – attrition. For many years that has been the preferred way to shrink the workforce. Attrition is less harsh, it does not force people out of their jobs, and presents fewer opportunities for favoritism or other bad things.

So why would we ever consider RIF when we have the allegedly painless magic of attrition? There are at least three reasons.

  1. Attrition is random. It does not always happen where you need it. If we have an organization where we want to reduce the number of people in position A, but keep all that we have in position B, we have to pray that the people who leave are in position A. If not, we may find ourselves being unable to hire for the jobs we need and still having too many people in the positions we do not need. Multiply that by a few dozen types of jobs and it is easy to see how an agency could get itself into a bind.
  2. Prolonged pain. Attrition takes a downsizing process and drags it out for months or even years. The organization is constantly under stress, leaders may not see the need for rapid rethinking of processes and structures, and the workforce is asked to do more with less until they break.  It is not good the agency, its mission, or its workforce.
  3. Timing. This one is most important for our situation today. Attrition depends on people leaving. If they are leaving in large numbers (and from the right jobs), attrition can work well. But most agencies do not have high turnover rates. If an agency has a turnover rate of 5% and is told to take a 10% cut (the size of the reductions we are hearing about in the President’s budget plan) on October 1st, they have a problem. Turnover takes time, and in that agency with 5% turnover, it would take 2 years of hiring no one to meet the goal. That is 2 years too late. Agencies can increase turnover by offering buyouts and early retirement, but that takes time, and they either need more money to pay for the buyouts or they have to do them early in the fiscal year. Attrition is great for small reductions that do not have a budget deadline. For big reductions, the timing simply does not work.

Continue reading “The ‘R’ Word”

Cutting the Federal Workforce Is Harder Than It Sounds

Cutting the Federal Workforce Is Harder Than It Sounds

Image of scissors positioned to cut a cartoon businesspersonImage of scissors positioned to cut a cartoon businessperson

The Trump administration and the Congress have been talking about reducing the size of the federal workforce. Given that the President and many members of Congress ran on a platform of doing just that, it should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Like many things in life, this one is harder than it might appear to be. There are 3 reasons why I believe that to be true.

Number 1

The “government” is unpopular with many folks, but specific programs/agencies are not.

An interesting 2013 Pew Research Center report looked at how Americans view federal agencies. They found that wide majorities had favorable views of the US Postal Service, the Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and several other agencies/programs.

So – while there may be widespread support for the abstract idea of cutting the size of the federal workforce, it is likely that many of the cuts that could be made may not be popular.

There’s an old expression in Washington: “Don’t cut you, don’t cut me – cut that fella behind the tree.” If cuts start to target specific (and popular) agencies, we may see public pressure to protect investments in those agencies and programs. Continue reading “Cutting the Federal Workforce Is Harder Than It Sounds”

DoD’s New RIF Rules: A Big Deal or Not?

DoD’s New RIF Rules: A Big Deal or Not?

February 3, 2017 

Image of a hand with scissors cutting through the word 'jobs'

The Department of Defense recently released new rules for reduction in force (RIF). Required by language in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the new rules are the biggest shakeup in RIF in decades.

The new rules change the order of RIF retention factors to make performance ratings the primary factor in determining who to let go in a RIF. Anyone who has conducted a RIF in the past understands the significance of the change. “Seismic shift” is a good way to describe it. Continue reading “DoD’s New RIF Rules: A Big Deal or Not?”