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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson February 21, 2012

No data to demonstrate it was done

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "thin the ranks of Washington middle managers, freeing up resources both for deficit reduction and for increasing the number of frontline workers."

When we asked the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget for statistics to back this up, they were unable to provide data specifically addressing "middle managers."

"I suspect part of the problem is definitional – what is a "middle manager" in the federal context?" said John M. Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service. "Is it anyone who is above the level of a first-line supervisor, or only individuals who head organizational units that have lower-level managers or supervisors?"

Either way, he said, there is no code in the federal personnel data base to capture such a designation.

"My finger-on-the-pulse sense of things is, given the budget pressures over the last couple of years, at a minimum there has been no growth in the ranks of 'middle managers," " Palguta said. "However, I am not aware of any coordinated, strategic attempt to reduce the number of 'middle managers" government-wide, and certainly none that has achieved any measurable results."

We are happy to change the ruling if the administration presents us with statistics documenting a reduction in middle managers. But we believe the burden of proof should be on the administration to demonstrate what, if anything, it has done about shrinking the federal workforce. And in the absence of such data, we rule this a Promise Broken.

Our Sources

Interview with John M. Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, Feb. 17, 2012

By Catharine Richert January 11, 2010

Obama's taken steps to streamline the federal workforce

Here's one way to win an election in the middle of a recession: propose cuts to the federal work force.
That's exactly what Barack Obama did when he was running for office in 2008. On the campaign trail, he promised to "thin the ranks of Washington middle managers" to free up resources and trim the deficit.
So, has he?
It's a promise that's difficult to quantify. We searched "middle managers" on the White House Web site, and not surprisingly, there was no press release boasting about massive layoffs.
Nevertheless, Obama has taken steps to streamline government.
For example, on the campaign trail, he mentioned that he would appoint a chief performance operator who would set performance targets for each department and oversee a team essentially tasked with cutting the fat. In April, Obama announced that Jeffrey Zients, a Washington management consultant, would be taking the job. (Nancy Killefer, Obama's first choice for the job, withdrew in early January over tax filing issues.)
Then, on June 11, the administration followed up the announcement with a memo to all agencies and departments asking each to prioritize programs and initiatives in an effort to reduce government spending. Presumably, when programs are eliminated, so are jobs.
So, Obama has taken some steps to streamline the government work force, but we're going to watch and see where this promise goes. It's In the Works for now.

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