The Interior Department potentially could cut almost 5,000 jobs by October 2013 through early retirements, buyouts and field office consolidations, according to a plan recently sent to the Office of Management and Budget.
Interior's National Business Center, which provides payroll help to other agencies, already is offering early retirements and buyouts, the plan says. And the department intends to seek authority to offer early retirements and buyouts for information technology infrastructure staff as the department consolidates its IT services, although it previously failed to get Office of Personnel Management approval for a departmentwide early retirement program.
Interior delivered the plan to OMB after the budget office ordered it late last year to study options for a 7 percent headcount reduction by the end of fiscal 2013. Federal Times obtained a copy Monday. Interior has about 70,000 employees, so a 7 percent cut would amount to a loss of about 4,900 positions.
The 30-page document also highlights hurdles to downsizing the far-flung agency. The department, which runs national parks and wildlife refuges, operates out of more than 3,000 locations, most of which already employ fewer than 100 people, the plan says. Like other agencies, Interior — whose staff is 58 percent male and 72 percent white — has to follow Obama administration policies aimed at promoting a diverse and inclusive workforce. Yet another factor is minimizing the risk "of losing key skills and knowledge through retirements and employees taking jobs at other agencies," the document says.
At least for now, however, the White House does not intend to press for a 7 percent reduction. In an email, OMB spokeswoman Moira Mack reiterated that the administration is pursuing the policy laid out in its 2013 budget request, which calls for a 1 percent cut in the department's workforce.
"This was simply one of various planning activities that agencies undertake as a matter of prudent management," Mack said. OMB ordered the plan last November in its 2013 budget "passback" to Interior; Mack would not say whether the administration made similar charges to other agencies.
Interior's plan describes other effects of tightening budgets. The U.S. Geological Survey, for example, clamped down on hiring in March 2010. Leaders there have since taken other steps to eliminate slack, such as steering more work to underused employees instead of bringing new staff on board.
And the Bureau of Indian Affairs will examine consolidation of field and agency offices. Out of 85 such offices, 19 have fewer than 15 employees, the plan says.
In the IT arena, positions left vacant include jobs for network engineers and database administrators, along with some at data centers, according to Andrew Jackson, the department's deputy assistant secretary for technology, information and business services.
"When folks left, we asked bureaus not to fill behind," he said in a Tuesday interview." To the extent that they could, they would use cross-servicing with other bureaus, which has helped a lot."
Staff Writer Nicole Johnson contributed to this report
• http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20120314/PERSONNEL02/203140305">Interior planning for 7 percent staffing cut (March 14)