House CAO Might Look to Buyouts to Reduce Costs

Posted March 21, 2013 at 4:51pm

The House’s chief administrative officer warned earlier this week that if the agency’s fiscal 2014 budget is cut from the previous fiscal year’s level, the office may be forced into offering buyouts to reduce costs.

House CAO Daniel Strodel said Tuesday at a House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing that although his office has been operating under the assumption that budgets would be tighter in the coming years, any further cuts would force him to put all options on the table, including personnel reductions, to stay within budget constraints.

“We’ve been in this budget environment for a couple years now, and we’ve been looking not only at how can we get through one fiscal year, but how can we be prepared for the next several, with the assumption that it is not going to be rosy,” said Strodel, whose agency is tasked with carrying out administrative functions of the House including managing the payroll, information technology and human resources departments.

“We still are in a position for FY ’13 where I don’t believe we will have to furlough employees unless there’s further reductions,” Strodel continued. “But as we roll into [fiscal years] ’14 and ’15, our personnel costs increase even if our budget stays flat. If [our budget] goes down, we are going to be in a position where I think we’re going to need to look at buyouts.”

Strodel requested $123.5 million for fiscal 2014, a 5 percent increase from fiscal 2013.

The CAO has had to reduce staff in recent years. In 2011, Strodel was forced to collapse some functions of the agency and lay off 30 employees, or 5 percent of the support agency’s staff, because of shrinking budgets.

Strodel said at the hearing that staff reductions are always a challenge and that he takes a multilayered approach to determine where the agency can shed personnel costs, which make up the large majority of the agency’s costs.

“If we have to do that, my position is, you’ve got to look at the entire organization, what is the mission that you’re charged with and then how can you best accomplish that,” Strodel said at the hearing. “How is it going to affect the community when we make these decisions, and even more importantly the individuals.”

If the CAO decides to offer buyouts, it wouldn’t be the first Capitol Hill support agency to do so.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer has said that a Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment program, or a buyout program, was offered to the 975 employees in his department this year.

Gainer said that, as of Feb. 28, 80 members of his team expressed interest in taking advantage of the buyouts, which Gainer said would prevent the need to furlough employees for one day per month per employee. Those employees can decide to change their mind and stay with the agency any time before April 30, Gainer said.

“Some people have put in requests; some people have withdrawn them already,” Gainer told CQ Roll Call last week. “But in theory, if all the people who have indicated that they would take retirement take retirement, we’ll be in a very good position to meet the salary reduction that is laid upon us without furloughs.”