How to make 'smart' cuts to the federal workforce

Monday - 2/20/2012, 12:06pm EST

Ron Sanders, former CHCO, Director of National Intelligence

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In the face of budget cuts, agencies across government are finding ways to reshape their workforces.

Whether the strategy is reducing personnel, consolidating offices or investing IT, "every one of them impacts people," said Ron Sanders, the former chief human capital officer for the Director of National Intelligence and now the executive adviser for Booz Allen Hamilton, in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Last week, Booz Allen and the Partnership for Public Service hosted a workshop for chief human capital officers and senior agency officials on how to make "smart" cuts. The workshop was based on a September 2011 report by the two organizations on the same topic.

"There is a short-term perspective: Let's get through this budget year and the next," Sanders said. "But really, the most important thing we found is looking downstream three to five years for agency critical skill sets."

In times of hiring freezes or even workforce cuts, agencies should still try to maintain a presence on campuses and with professional associations, Sanders said. Agencies don't look enough to mid-career hiring, he added.

However, immediate budget pressures will force managers to cut staff sizes in the short-term.

"We'd like all this to be done voluntarily. That's the humane way. But frankly, with the economy being the way it is, things like early retirements and buyouts — voluntary means — may not get you the number you need because, in some cases, the numbers are going to be very daunting," Sanders said.

Federal managers should consider how to let employees go "with dignity." Sanders pointed to the military as an example where an individual's service is celebrated.

Agencies should also try to maintain contact with former federal employees, who can act as mentors for younger employees and be available in case they are needed again, Sanders said.

The employees who remain at the agency may experience "survivors' guilt," Sanders said. Managers need to maintain "open and honest communications" with these feds, he said.

The constrained budget environment also is an opportunity for managers to recognize outstanding performance.

"It's an old adage, but true, that in good times and bad, your most marketable employees are your highest performers and those with the most critical skills," Sanders said. "And if they are high-performing, those are the ones you want to single out."

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