House Republicans Take Aim at Shrinking Federal Workforce

Two pieces of legislation introduced recently by Republicans in the House aim to reduce the overall size of the federal workforce.

Two pieces of legislation introduced recently by Republicans in the House would reduce the overall size of the federal workforce.

Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) introduced legislation this week known as the Federal Workforce Reduction Through Attrition Act (H.R. 417).  The bill limits new federal hires to one employee for every three that retire or leave service, saving a previously estimated $35 billion over five years without forcing any current federal employees out of a job.  If a federal agency were to refuse complying with the legislation’s hiring limits it would result in a federal hiring freeze.

Key components of this bill include:

  • Requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to make ongoing, quarterly determinations of whether new hires exceed the 1 to 3 ratio of the employees who have retired or left since the bill was enacted.
  • Aided by attrition, the bill requires a net 10 percent reduction in the civilian federal workforce (excluding postal employees) by September 30, 2016, after which the 10 percent reduction must be maintained.
  • If OMB’s quarterly determinations violate either the attrition ratio or the global cap instituted in 2016, the bill institutes a hiring freeze until compliance is met.
  • Allows a presidential waiver for a state of war, national security, or an extraordinary emergency threatening life, health, safety, or property.
  • To ensure positions are not simply backfilled by service contracts, the bill matches the decrease in federal employment with the procurement of service contracts.

Speaking on the legislation, Lummis said, “We’ve racked up over $18 trillion in debt simply because Washington has no idea when to stop spending. Attrition is a solution that requires the federal government to do what any business, state, or local government would do to cut costs—limit new hires.  Instead of blindly filling empty desks, this bill forces agencies to take a step back, consider which positions are crucial, and make decisions based on necessity rather than luxury.  Real, productive job creation takes place on Main Street America not in the bloated federal government.”

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) introduced similar legislation last week which would reduce the size of the Department of Defense workforce. The Rebalance for an Effective Defense Uniform and Civilian Employees (REDUCE) Act (H.R. 340) would require the DOD to reduce its civilian workforce by 15% by FY 2022.

Key measures of the legislation include the following:

  • The Department of Defense civilian workforce would remain at or below this established cap of a 15% reduction for Fiscal Years 2022 through 2026.
  • The Department of Defense civilian Senior Executive Service career appointee workforce will be reduced to 1,000 by 2022 and remain at or below 1,000 employees for Fiscal Years 2022 through 2026.
  • Provide the Secretary of Defense the authority to use voluntary separation incentive payments and voluntary early retirement payments in order to achieve the required reductions in personnel.
  • Provide the Secretary of Defense the authority to assign greater weight to job performance versus tenure in a Reduction in Force then the Secretary currently has.
  • Require a two-fold reporting requirement for this Act: (1) a report from the Secretary of Defense covering the progress and impact of the requirements of this Act in the annual budget request for Fiscal Years 2018 through 2026. The Secretary of Defense may also report to Congress on the impact of the provisions at any time throughout the year (such as when submitting the report on achievement of performance goals as required by Sec. 116 of title 31 of the United States Code on “Agency performance rating.”), (2) a GAO study, no later than 3 years after enactment of this Act, that shall examine the progress and impact of the requirements of this Act.

In a statement on the legislation, Calvert said, “Many of our civilians at the Pentagon and around the world do a fine job but their growth is unsustainable. Our current and retired military leaders have widely acknowledged the need to establish a more efficient defense workforce in order to preserve our national security posture in the future. However, actions speak louder than words and I continue to believe Congress will ultimately have to force DOD’s hand to implement these necessary changes.”

Proposals such as these which come from the House of Representatives are nothing new. A key recommendation of the House’s 2014 budget proposal, for example, called for a 10% cut to the federal workforce through attrition.

Or what about legislation introduced in 2013 that would cut the federal workforce to avoid sequestration? It ultimately died.

Given the track record of these past proposals, it is unlikely these new bills will become law, but we will continue to keep you updated of any new information as it becomes available.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.