The 0.5 percent decline in the federal workforce last year — the first in five years — may not seem like much. But at the agencies where the cuts are most pronounced, the impact is big.
The Social Security Administration — which saw its staff shrink 6 percent last year — warned Congress last month it cannot keep up with swelling workloads as baby boomers retire and more Americans file for benefits.
At the IRS, which also saw a 6 percent staffing cut last year, fewer tax enforcement agents translates to $4 billion a year in uncollected revenues, according to the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS employees. The IRS has also cut customer service staff who help people pay their taxes.
“Everything is taking longer,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said in an interview. “There are fewer examinations being done, fewer employees to help taxpayers get on payment plans, and the IRS is collecting less revenue, which means less money to fund every other agency.”
In most cases, agencies are cutting their workforces to help meet budget constraints. At some places, that means freezing hiring and not replacing employees who retire. At others — such as the IRS — buyouts have been offered to trim the ranks.
With the White House and Congress facing increasing pressure to cut the deficit — and steep cuts looming in January as part of the sequestration process — budgets are certain to get even tighter. And some experts fear Congress will continue cutting budgets without scaling back agencies’ missions, which will force some agencies to cut staffing to dangerous levels. Continue reading “Shrinking staffs imperil missions at key agencies”