Many federal agencies and private sector operations have tightened their belts with mixed results for their customers. Example:
Two of the three federal agencies that often touch the most Americans have some real problems. The U.S. Postal Service is cutting jobs, offering buyouts and looking for ways to make money. Having a monopoly on first-class mail isn’t much good in an era of email and texting, when even the most devoted grandchild sends Grannie a computerized birthday card.
Currently, the USPS is trying to convince Congress to stop forcing it from pre-funding its retirement plan, something other federal operations don’t have to do. It is also looking at a stand-alone health plan and other changes that make some of its employees nervous.
Some of its ventures appear to be working. Others, like sponsoring the U.S. Tour de France bicycling team, not so much…
The Social Security Administration, which directly touches one in every six Americans is also trying — and in most cases so far, succeeding — to do more with less. In theory, Social Security, for politicians, is the third political rail. That is, touch it — as in mess with its operations or delay those checks — and you die. Senior citizens are known to vote.
Social Security managed to escape most of the impacts of sequestration. Other agencies, like the Defense Department, the Internal Revenue Service, the Housing and Urban Development Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have furloughed people. Social Security cut back office hours and is doing more with fewer people. It’s had two budget cuts in the last two years, and Congress — when it gets back from its latest extended vacation — may or may not approve a new budget.
In the meantime, Acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin has sent an all-hands message to staffers asking them to hang in there. Effective now, she said, “We are facing our toughest fiscal challenge in 30 years…we anticipate lengthy debates over our budget…Congress may not reach agreement before Sept. 30, which means we may enter a new fiscal year under a continuing resolution and under the continued effects of sequestration.”
Colvin, a veteran fed with four decades of service, noted that SSA has lost 10,000 employees in the last three years, and this has resulted in imbalances in different offices.
She said she is telling SSA bosses to “provide for broader empowerment at the staff level,” greater delegation of both “accountability and responsibility” — while asking each employee to come up with “game-changer” processes, rules, procedures or systems that make it easier to do more with less.
So what is the likelihood that Congress — when it returns after Labor Day — will be able to reach an agreement on budgets for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1? The odds are about as good as they were this time last year, and the year before, and the year before that.
The other reach-out-and-touch someone agency, the Internal Revenue Service, has long been under orders to do more with less. The IRS has also suffered through a round of furloughs.
For feds the message is this: Keep on doing what you are supposed to do, except maybe not so often or so well.
The Federal Employee Education and Assistance fund (a feds-helping-feds charity) is just about out of money. It’s been tapped out after making $225,000 in no-interest loans to furloughed feds and others who have had financial hardships. Executive Director Steve Bauer said that despite generous corporate sponsors, “widespread furloughs…may be the straw that breaks us.”
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For those of you former (or present) mulletheads, you might be slightly upset to hear that no, you were not the first one to rock your totally rad hair-do. The first known mulletheads date all the way back to sixth century, and back then, the mullet was called a “Hunnic.”