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Interior Department planning for 7% staffing cut

Mar. 14, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Contractors working for the Bureau of Reclamation begin work on a project to connect integrated canals in California. The commissioner of the bureau said in a memo this week that OMB has asked Interior to come up with a plan to reduce the number of full-time employee equivalents by 7 percent.
Contractors working for the Bureau of Reclamation begin work on a project to connect integrated canals in California. The commissioner of the bureau said in a memo this week that OMB has asked Interior to come up with a plan to reduce the number of full-time employee equivalents by 7 percent. (Interior Department)

The Interior Department is developing a plan to cut almost 5,000 jobs by September 2013, according to a memo this week from a top agency official, but a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget downplayed the likelihood that the plan will take effect.

The OMB asked Interior to come up with the plan for reducing the number of full-time equivalents by 7 percent "in light of the constrained budget outlook," Mike Connor, commissioner of the department's Bureau of Reclamation, told bureau employees in a memo on Monday. The plan is due to OMB by March 30, Connor said, and "will outline broad strategies to lay the groundwork for our own workforce planning efforts."

In an email, OMB spokeswoman Moira Mack confirmed that the budget office asked Interior to conduct the exercise "in the interest of prudent and responsible management," but said OMB does not expect the department to follow through with actual workforce cuts by the end of fiscal 2013.

At the reclamation bureau, however, managers are analyzing the impact that any new workforce reductions would have on the mission, Connor said.

Interior has some 70,000 employees, meaning a 7 percent cut would equate to a loss of about 4,900 positions. Interior Department spokesman Adam Fetcher did not dispute the accuracy of Connor's memo, but in an email said the department routinely examines workforce planning options "with the goal of not impacting non-retiring, full-time employees."

Asked whether the department is contemplating any specific steps such as an early retirement program, buyouts, or a reduction-in-force to reduce its headcount, Fetcher said that "this is an exercise and there are no specific programs tied to it." A departmentwide workgroup plans to reach the 7 percent target by using tailored approaches for different bureaus and offices, he said, along with broader strategies that look at "sharing services and leveraging."

Mack declined to say whether OMB has asked other agencies to embark on similar efforts.

"We engage in a variety of planning activities with the agencies, but there is not a governmentwide workforce planning or reduction exercise underway," Mack said.

Connor could not be reached for further comment. In his memo, he acknowledged that "a lack of clarity about these efforts could create uncertainty," but told his bureau employees that he would "make every effort to justify our resources and the critical contributions each of you make to mission accomplishment."

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