Spring has sprung. The Federal hiring freeze that broke a few days after inauguration ends today, appropriately just short of Easter. But don’t get too excited. Accompanying warmer federal breezes is the direction to begin cutting government fat – now. April is, after all, the cruelest month. Here’s what federal employees can expect in the days and months ahead.
CONTEXT for the federal workforce cuts
Remember, as ClearanceJobs.com pointed out in mid-March, “The next evolution of federal reform is about reorganizing and eliminating,” and the hiring freeze was only a preface to the March 13 Executive Order directing a “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch.” The Executive Order’s very long timeline offered some welcome professional relief to those worried that their office or agency could find itself under the knife. By mid-September 2017 each department and agency will provide to Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney plans to reorganize agencies. Then, after 180 days of careful study and self-reflection, department heads could offer suggestions to eliminate office and agencies. But not until April 2018 would a plan even be presented to the President that “shall include, as appropriate, recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs . . . .” Plenty of breathing room.
Here’s the kicker accompanying the end of the hiring freeze: a 14-page memo from the White House budget chief “will direct federal agencies to make deep personnel cuts over the next year,” according to Politico’. Rather than waiting two years for proposed personnel changes, the memo tells agencies to begin taking actions today to reduce the size of the federal workforce. By June 30, agencies should have a plan to ‘maximize employee performance.’ That includes rewarding high performers, and cutting underperformers.
LEADERSHIP and federal hiring and firing
For those who forgot about the long-term plan outlined in the January Executive Order, today’s memorandum is a not-so-gentle reminder. Government agencies are already moving along in the process of looking for big ways to cut the civil service workforce. Todays’ White House memorandum directing some quick simply reinforces the Administration’s seriousness in streamlining government.
A big question, however, is how agency leadership will inform employees and manage the process. Because rumors are going to begin spreading like wildfire pretty quickly, and they may have a chilling effect on morale and productivity. Employees will begin reading between the lines of management messages and seeing things that are there, or that are not really there. Closed-door sessions where transparency was once the rule may not necessarily stifle collaboration, but will certainly deflate the spirit of teamwork. And employees may begin to feel more and more isolated, cut-off from important decisions and marginalized.
Additionally, leadership should expect that, given the stakes, there may be power struggles and maneuvering among employees and managers alike in order to strengthen personal and professional positions. The fact is that there’s a big, big movement afoot, and there are days of reckoning ahead. And it’s unlikely to be very pleasant. Ultimately, it will have something to do with a sort of survival of the fittest—that is, preservation of those employees, offices, agencies, projects and, yes, departments deemed of value, and an end to those falling short.
The overarching success of the process will depend in large part on the quality of leadership leading the winnowing.