“We don’t need any more [federal] supervisors…We got to get rid of these people”

How would President Kerry approach the federal workforce? Here are a few clues from the candidate’s website documents.

This quote from vice-presidential candidate John Edwards (as quoted in the Washington Post) may surprise some readers. But, for those who have been around for 10 or more years, it may have a ring of familiarity. Remember “reinventing government?”

Bill Clinton won the support of federal unions and avoided criticism of his policies toward the federal workforce by creating labor-management partnerships and giving unions access to top officials. But he also was proud of cutting the size of the federal workforce.

A President Kerry may follow some of the same tactics. But President Clinton had a goal of no more than one supervisor for 15 employees. The goal was avidly pursued and it worked in many if not most agencies. The number of supervisors was cut although a lot of team leaders, that looked and acted like supervisors, sprung up throughout the federal bureaucracy.

There is no mention of labor-management partnerships in the campaign document summarizing the Kerry-Edwards proposals and we would not anticipate there would be an announcement of such a program during the campaign. That issue may not bring a lot of voters into the Kerry camp outside of federal employee union circles and would likely be a target for criticism in any event.

Under the heading of “Streamlining the Bureaucracy and Cutting Wasteful Spending” John Kerry says that as president he would pursue the same goal of lowering the ratio of supervisors to employees.

Here is a quick summary with clues as to how a President Kerry would approach the federal workplace and federal government structure according to the Kerry plan posted on his website.

Cut top-heavy bureaucracy at Federal agencies

“The taxpayers and the country pay a heavy price for a top-heavy bureaucracy with several layers between high-ranking decision makers and the front-line information needed to make the right decision. As part of their reform agenda to make government work better, John Kerry will thin out the top ranks of government by restoring the government-wide target of no more than 1 supervisor per 15 subordinates. This was the target for Al Gore’s Reinventing Government agenda….”

Reduce the number of contractors employed by the Federal government by 100,000

“Kerry would reduce the growth in the number of contractors by 100,000 over the next decade.”

Freeze the Federal travel budget

“…[T]he Federal travel budget continues to grow more quickly than inflation. John Kerry and John Edwards will freeze the federal travel budget, giving each agency a hard cap on its travel expenditures.”

Implement the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommendations to eliminate wasteful mismanagement of the government’s vehicle fleet.

According to GAO, “…the government’s fleet of 387,000 vehicles was too large for their needs and poorly managed.” See also “Millions Wasted with Federal Cars and Airplanes Says GAO”

Automatic, across-the-board spending cuts if necessary

“John Kerry and John Edwards will ask Congress to enforce the tough spending caps by reinstating automatic, across-the-board spending cuts. Specifically, if Congress passes spending items that result in discretionary spending – excluding security and education – growing faster than inflation, this will trigger an automatic across-the-board cut of all domestic discretionary programs to keep them within the spending limits.”

Eliminate major statistical agencies and establish a single Statistics USA

“Today, at least 70 different federal agencies engage in statistical activities. The division of labor between these statistical agencies often makes little sense.”

Eliminate trade promotion agencies and consolidate activities

“As president, John Kerry would consolidate the trade promotion activities of the U.S. government into fewer agencies, which will save money and simplify government….”

Eliminate the Office of Thrift Supervision

“The Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) was established in the late 1980s when there were roughly 3,000 Savings and Loan (S&L) institutions. Today, there are less than 1,000.”

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47