Expert says budget, employee reductions force agencies to rethink mission goals

Monday - 6/16/2014, 5:46pm EDT

Bob Tobias, Key Executive Leadership Programs, American University

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By Stephanie Wasko
Special to Federal News Radio

Federal employment took a dive with agency budgets, forcing executives to drop the "more with less" mentality and look to make programmatic cuts.

The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 63,000 federal employee decrease over the past year.

This comes after almost a decade of constant growth, reported the Government Accountability Office. It found agencies saw an increase of 258,882 employees from 2004 to 2012 — most of which came in the homeland security sector of the government.

Bob Tobias (File photo)

Over the years, GAO has stressed the importance of strategic human capital planning for agencies to accomplish their missions. But agencies cannot be expected to perform at comparable levels with fewer resources, said Bob Tobias, director of Key Executive Leadership Programs at American University.

"They can't stretch themselves," said Tobias in an interview Wednesday on In Depth with Francis Rose. "The business processes have been looked at. Efficiencies have been looked at. Now the time is, 'I can't stretch these people more. What can I cut?'"

Federal News Radio has heard from other federal officials who have said the tight budgets are leading to the realization there is not enough people or money to get everything done and so priorities must be set.

"We've got to be able to begin to make choices that require discipline to say, 'What are the high value adds? Where is the low risk associated with the investment? And where you have very low value, very high risk, dump it.' Can I get more plain that that? Dump it," said Rafael Borras, former undersecretary for management at the Department of Homeland Security, in a panel discussion last August.

Tobias said these cuts must come from agency levels and will include risks. He said executives need to communicate with Congress about their capabilities.

"I think the executive branch departments have to be very clear on what they can do and what they can't do, and so far, very few of them have had that courage," Tobias said.

Tobias said one such example is John Koskinen, the Internal Revenue Service commissioner. Earlier this year, Koskinen said the IRS wouldn't be able to answer 20 million taxpayer phone calls in 2015 as a result of budget cuts.

"I think the commissioner of IRS is setting the standard here by saying 'I'm going to do what is required by statute, but the other stuff I'm going to cut because I don't have funding. Now if you want to give me the funding, I'll be happy to perform, but if I don't have the funding, I won't perform,'" Tobias said.

As other agencies follow the IRS' lead, Tobias said the administration and Congress need to come to terms with the risks. He gave hypothetical consequences of closed parks, security breaches and increased illegal immigration.

Stephanie Wasko is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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