The federal workforce would be reduced by 10 percent by 2015 under a bill introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, and other committee leaders Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).  The Reducing the Size of the Federal Government Through Attrition Act of 2011 (H.R. 2114) would limit the size of the federal workforce by September 30, 2014 to 90 percent of the level as of September 30, 2011. The co-sponsors say the proposal would save $128 billion over 10 years.

To enforce the 10 percent reduction, the bill would allow only one worker to be hired for every three workers that leave federal service.  The  National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform,” called for cutting the federal workforce by 200,000 by replacing two workers for every three that leave federal service.

Rep. Ross said OPM projections that 400,000 federal civilian employees are eligible to retire provides a good chance to reduce the federal workforce and to lower spending.  “As these workers leave, we cannot let this opportunity to save taxpayer money pass,”  Ross said. 

The bill’s co-sponsors and others in Congress have been very critical of what they describe as an exploding growth in the size of the federal workforce, currently at about 2.1 million (excluding postal workers).  Testifying at a Federal Workforce subcommittee hearing on Rightsizing the Federal Workforce, last month, Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) said “over 180,000 employees have been added to the federal workforce” in the past two years, with an additional 15,000 being requested in the FY2012 budget. 

However, critics of strict hiring limitations say the 2009 workforce level was 200,000 lower than in 1968.  Speaking at the federal workforce hearing, committee ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) cited OMB figures that show 8.4 federal employees for every 1,000 citizens in 2010, compared to 13.3 in 1962.  Cummings said this per capita share is the lowest in 50 years.

The bill’s sponsors tried to address the complaint from critics who say that forced cuts to  federal workforce levels will be offset by more contractor hiring.  They included a provision that prohibits such practices, unless “a cost comparison demonstrates that such contracts would be to the financial advantage of the government.”  However, critics say this exemption would, in effect, allow agencies to replace federal workers with contractors.

Unlike some past proposals to cut the federal workforce, H.R. 2114 does not exempt the Department of Defense or Homeland Security.  The bill would allow a presidential waiver for identified positions or categories of jobs and for war, national security concerns, or if threats to life, health, public safety, or property exist.

 H.R. 2114 is the latest in a series of legislative proposals to limit or cut the size of the federal workforce through hiring freezes or limited replacement practices.  Rep. Lummis’ proposal, the Federal Workforce Reduction Act of 2011 (H.R. 657), would reduce the workforce by allowing only one worker for every two employees that leave.  A bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), the Federal Hiring Freeze Act of 2011 (H.R. 1779), would freeze the size of the federal workforce until the deficit is eliminated.  Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) have introduced legislation (H.R. 408/S. 178) that would require a 15 percent cut in the federal workforce.

It is clear that there is congressional support for controlling federal spending including some limits on the size of the federal workforce.  It is also clear that some kind of hiring restriction legislation like H.R. 2114 will come out of the Republican-controlled House.  But, it is not clear that the Democrat-controlled Senate would follow the House or the president would agree on specific legislation.  So, the final decision on federal hiring restrictions may become part of an agreement the president and congressional Republicans finally reach on deficit reduction.