Government Agencies Stretched to Near Breaking Point, New Report Shows

Mike O'Brien

Budget cuts and increased workloads are leaving many federal agency employees overstretched, according to a new report.

The worst affected agencies were identified by Federal Times based on analysis of the latest government-wide employee satisfaction survey.

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Almost 690,000 employees from 292 agencies took part in the Office of Personnel Management‘s 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

To compile its list of most overstretched agencies, Federal Times focused on responses to two questions: One asked employees whether they agree or disagree with the statement, "I have sufficient resources (for example, people, materials, budget) to get my job done." The other asked whether employees agree or disagree with the statement, "My workload is reasonable."

The results showed that most of the overstretched agencies are in the departments of Homeland Security, Commerce, Agriculture, Interior and Education.

They include large agencies, such as the Veterans Affairs Department’s Veterans Benefits Administration, Interior’s National Park Service and DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Employees at smaller agencies such as Interior’s office of the solicitor and DHS’ intelligence and analysis division also report being overstretched.

A typical scenario is that of positions remaining unfilled when co-workers leave or retire, while investment in IT and machinery is cut. The prospect of furloughs and other effects of sequestration only serve to exacerbate the situation.

The Agriculture Department’s Risk Management Agency, for example, saw a budget reduction from $80 million in 2011 to $75 million last year, even though the level of insurance coverage the agency provides remained the same.

The National Park Service is also struggling under reduced budgets and increased workloads, with the service’s budget dropping by nearly $32 million to $2.58 billion in 2012, along with the elimination of 144 jobs. The sequester cuts another $153 million from the budget.

The Federal Times cites the federally-run overseas news service Voice of America as a prime example of an overstretched agency. Workloads for employees there have almost quadrupled over the last few years, according to Tim Shambles, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1812, which represents VOA employees.

Employees who used to work solely in radio are now expected to contribute to television, the Internet and social media, he said, adding: "In these times, we are told to do more with less, which means not only [less] money, it means [less] staff."

There was a budget decrease from $208 million in 2010 to $206 million in 2012 and a $17 million cut has been proposed for 2013. The agency is expected to freeze hiring starting on April 1 and delay upgrades to its technical systems while it deals with sequestration cuts.

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