WASHINGTON — At least four federal agencies will probably have to lay off thousands of employees this year unless Congress approves "buyouts" to speed voluntary departures, according to Clinton Administration officials.
The Agriculture, Interior and Transportation departments and the Office of Personnel Management are at the most risk for reductions in force, or RIFs--the government jargon for layoffs--the officials said, primarily because of tight budgets this year.
The Administration still hopes to avoid such layoffs, but pressure to hold down payroll costs will continue into next year. The budget for fiscal 1995, due out Feb. 7, will require at least three more agencies to reduce personnel levels, said Christopher Edley, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Edley did not identify the seven agencies at risk but said: "If we don't get buyout legislation, RIFs are likely."
The prospect of RIFs has set off waves of anxiety inside the Administration. Officials said layoffs would undercut initiatives to reshape or streamline the bureaucracy, deplete the ranks of minorities, women and younger workers in the civil service and hurt morale.
The Administration had counted on being able to offer buyouts of up to $25,000 in fiscal 1994, which ends Sept. 30, as an incentive to get workers to resign voluntarily or take early retirement. But the legislation stalled last year when the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost $519 million over the next five years, primarily because of increased costs to the federal pension system.
During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Bill Clinton pledged to cut the federal work force by 100,000 employees by the end of fiscal 1995. Clinton said it would be accomplished through attrition or voluntary departures.
The work force reduction goal was increased by another 152,000 employees last year after Vice President Al Gore completed a six-month performance review of the government.
But attrition rates throughout the government have fallen to historic lows, partly because of the recent economic slump. In general, federal employees appear fearful of taking their chances in the private sector.
In addition, anticipating possible buyouts, older federal workers apparently decided to postpone retirement plans to see if they could obtain a better separation package.
As Tom Collier, the Interior Department chief of staff put it: "Talking about buyouts and not delivering is worse than not delivering. Our retirements have gone down dramatically."