Magazine article Insight on the News

Phantom Cuts Won't Dent Entrenched Bureaucracy

Magazine article Insight on the News

Phantom Cuts Won't Dent Entrenched Bureaucracy

Article excerpt

No wonder the dog didn't bark. When President Clinton announced he would cut the federal bureaucracy by 100,000 workers, there was not a whimper from the perpetually growling government unions. Now we know why. They knew something we did not: The bureaucracy will not be cut at all.

The secret was let out of the bag by one of the best friends federal employees have in Congress, Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democract. At an Appropriations Committee oversight hearing of the National Archives and Records Administration on Feb. 24, the conscientious Hoyer made the mistake of asking how many employees would lose their jobs under the Clinton personnel reduction. Before the subject could be changed, the answer slipped out: "None."

Why? The archives agency has an authorized personnel level of 2,750 employees. The testifying bureaucrat said the 100,000 government-wide cut translated into a 4 percent reduction, or a decrease to 2,640. The present number of employees at the agency -- miraculously -- is 2,640. So no one has to go; and if anyone leaves, the agency can hire a replacement immediately. That is what is called a "personnel reduction" in the wacky world of Washington. (Actually, 100,000 is a 5 percent reduction, but neither Hoyer nor the Federal Pagr of the Washington Post caught that sleight of hand by the quick-thinking bureaucrat. Close enough for government work, one presumes.)

Assuming the president really wanted reductions in the federal work force, it is apparent that the slick cats in the Office of Management and Budget and the agencies saw this rube coming a long way off.

Clinton can't say he wasn't warned, however. A Heritage Foundation recommendation beforehand alerted the president that he would have to define his reduction as a cut in what specialists call full-time equivalent (FTE) employment, or the bureaucracy would outwit him. Now it has. But if Clinton really wants to cut, he can. President Reagan promised to reduce 75,000 FTE nondefense "work years," or full-time jobs, in his first term and actually cut 78,650 work years, not "authorized" positions that were empty or had never been filled.

Federal job cuts that end up costing no particular person's job are part of a trend in Clinton's Washington. Every day everything changes and nothing is what it first seems. The night of the president's speech before Congress, the claimed deficit was $496 billion, the next day it was $325 billion, and in the formal report "A Vision of Change for America" it was $313 billion. Maybe they mean changing the numbers. Losing $183 billion is quite a bit, even in Washington. …

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