Feds keep hiring with sequesters in place

Mar 5, 2013 by

The sequester cuts are now officially in place, but many government agencies appear to be hiring freely anyway.


The U.S. Forest Service on Monday posted help-wanted ads for a few good men and women to work as “recreation aides” this summer, the Internal Revenue Service advertised for an office secretary in Maryland, the U.S. Mint wanted 24 people to help press coins, and the Agriculture Department said it needs three “insect production workers” to help grow bollworms in Phoenix.

Monday marked the first regular workday under sequestration, and federal agencies posted more than 400 job ads by 6 p.m.

At a time when nearly all of those agencies are contemplating furloughs, the help-wanted ads raised questions about how agencies should decide between saving through attrition or letting people go.

“Every position you don’t fill that isn’t absolutely necessary is one less person that needs to be furloughed,” said Steve Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense — though he said some positions that people leave need to be filled in order to meet agencies’ core missions.


Part of the problem is it’s often unclear exactly what those core missions are, said Paul C. Light, a professor at New York University who has studied government organization extensively.

“When you say mission critical, it’s a phrase without meaning,” he said. “Everything’s mission critical. Therefore, we have no way of knowing what would be mission critical in a job description versus what is not.”

He said agencies become “very artful” in writing job descriptions to justify why they are hiring.

At the Homeland Security Department, which just days ago announced it was releasing some low-priority illegal immigrants from jails to await removal, the agency in charge of deportations advertised for an assistant to help with deportations.

The annual salary for the job is $60,765, enough to detain one immigrant for about 500 days.

An official at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency is filling only mission-critical positions and may not end up hiring for every job it advertises.

The sequesters — $85 billion in spending cuts — were set into motion by the 2011 debt deal and imposed across-the-board cuts to most federal agencies. Social Security was spared, and other big entitlements such as Medicare face only minor trims.

Homeland Security officials warned that they would have to furlough airport screeners, and the Defense Department has canceled deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf region to save money.

But the Obama administration also faces a decision about how painful it wants the cuts to be. Ahead of the sequesters, when the White House was still hoping for a deal, officials painted the most dire picture possible. Now that the cuts are a reality, the administration must grapple with the possible downside of cutting something critical while spending on something that voters might see as less important.

When it comes to furloughs, Mr. Light, the NYU professor, said it would make sense to use job appraisals to decide which employees to furlough — except that the appraisals aren’t particularly useful anymore.

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