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Thread: Can a federal employment overhaul save tax dollars?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Can a federal employment overhaul save tax dollars?

    Some pundits have claimed that Obama plans on adding a ±250,000 jobs to the federal government alone. I, too, am looking for a job in the federal government. Everyone tells me to apply for federal jobs becuase they are very safe, and it is very hard to get fired from these jobs.

    A friend of mine told me you would really need to screw up your job to get the ax: something like selling narcotics out of your office, doing needles in plain view, sleeping and/or drinking on the job, and even then that doesn't mean you will necessarily be fired. My friend is on the way to earning an offer as a federal auditor and is looking forward to a 35 hour work week in Chicago (down from working 80-90 hours a week in the private sector at 4x the pay in New York). He also believes that most public employes (federal, state, local) only work 35 hours a week, and are generally lazy and incompetent, which is not correct. He lived a block from the UN and had worse complaints about the UN employees.

    After reading up on a few other blogs, part of the reason why it is so difficult to fire federal employess is the legal process, which is often established through the federal courts. This dragged out process can sometimes take a year or more to get rid of an employee. It's just easier to keep them on board and hope the employee will improve. Unlike every other municipal, regional, and state government, the federal government doesn't need to play down the deficit and national debt (it can just rack up more debt and print more money).

    Personally, I think you can find incompetent, competent, and hard-working employees anywhere, public or private sector. In past downturns, municipal, regional, and state jobs were considered pretty safe jobs, and that isn't the case in this recession. Everyone has to work harder and smarter to save their jobs and prepare for worst-case scenarios. I've worked in the private sector for 4 years now, and 2-3 years in the public sector before that, and it was always drilled into my skull to put in 200% no matter what the economy is like. It is discouraging to hear of some of the waste going on in the federal sector.

    I think there needs to be an overhaul of the federal sector. I don't think benefits need to be cut back yet (that's one of the perks of a federal job in lieu of higher industry pay in the private sector). However, I think more of an effort should be made to lean government staff and keep only the most productive people employed. If everyone else is doing it, why can't the federal government? If anything, it will free up expenditures and lessen the tab on the deficit, however neglible.

    Hopefully, those of you in federal jobs will cast some light into this.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  2. #2
    Cyburbian chupacabra's avatar
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    I know no federal employees who work a 35-hour week. I work 40-60 with no OT. It sounds like your friend is looking for a bogey-man.

    There is going to be a spike in federal employment until the economy recovers, then I expect there to be a mass-gutting of many federal agencies to get spending down. I work for the feds now, but I plan to be back in the private sector in a few years.

    It is very difficult to get fired from the federal government. It is also very difficult to be hired as a permanent employee. The NPS, for example, uses mostly "term" employees for planning and design jobs. These are contract specific terms of employment that end when the project funding runs out.

    The permanent planners at the NPS probably don't have a very high number of billable hours. I see their role as more as managers of institiutional knowledge and the checks to keep mission drift down. Example: a planner I work with is an expert on Wilderness. She consults with policy wonks in DC and ensures consistency and adherence to the Wilderness Act for the NPS. There is no comparable role in private sector firms, but I see her role as being pretty important to the mission and purpose of that particular public agency. Apples, oranges, etc.

    There is for sure loads of waste. The pace is much slower than I am used to. This is partly because as a public agency, we have to vet everything single stupid thing we say and do with a range of stakeholders from state govs to native american groups to recreational users. I don't have a problem with this because the purpose of bureaucracies isn't to innovate or generate wealth, their purpose is to maintain and perpetuate publically agreed upon standards.

    You should look into the NPS's Denver Service Center. This the main planning and design mothership for the National Park Service. They get $0 base funding and basically function like a private firm, except you don't get rewarded for working hard and bringing in lots of project money. I think this is an ok model as they are able to keep operating costs down and still have enough permanent staff to ensure Yosemite doesn't get leased to a group of Dubai-based venture capitalists.

  3. #3
    I have never worked for the federal government and have not worked for state or local government in over 15 years. The feds I have worked with on projects work very hard.

    I have had problems with private sector employees - just try resolving a minor health insurance coverage claim - 1.5 years and counting.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian chupacabra's avatar
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    You should look into the NPS's Denver Service Center. This the main planning and design mothership for the National Park Service. They get $0 base funding and basically function like a private firm, except you don't get rewarded for working hard and bringing in lots of project money. I think this is an ok model as they are able to keep operating costs down and still have enough permanent staff to ensure Yosemite doesn't get leased to a group of Dubai-based venture capitalists.

    Just to add....in the late 1990s DSC had ~800 employees. They cut it down to ~200 employees by the time Clinton left office. The laid off employees often simply crossed the street and took jobs with all the various consultant fims. All that work still had to be done, so the contractors made out pretty good. It also made the bureaucracy more flexible since so much of the work was outsourced.

    Did this save tax dollars? On agency overhead, sure. I think changes post election 2012 will see similar shifts in employment patterns.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by chupacabra View post
    There is going to be a spike in federal employment until the economy recovers, then I expect there to be a mass-gutting of many federal agencies to get spending down. I work for the feds now, but I plan to be back in the private sector in a few years.

    .
    This is very good to know. I have heard this from several people already. Most of the work I have seen in the federal sector are contract jobs (6,12,18, or 24 months). I am sure that once these contracts are done, I would have to re-apply again for jobs. I would like to work for the feds for just a couple of years (save up for grad school), find a municipal job for a couple of years (save up more money) and then go back to grad school.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

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