Trump mandate to cut staff could harm data gathering efforts at HHS

By Virgil Dickson

A mandate issued Wednesday by the White House to all federal agencies to cut staff could harm efforts at HHS to release data on the impact of Affordable Care Act coverage provisions and MACRA pay models.

Because human resource departments tend to be the first to cut staff in these situations, efforts to properly train people to combat fraud could also be affected.

A memo has directed federal agencies to find ways to cut their workforces by June 30. The memo affects agencies that lost money in President Donald’s Trump’s 2018 budget proposal.

A blueprint for the budget was released in March and called for a 16%, or $12.6 billion cut to HHS’ budget. Where those cuts will be made are not detailed, except for the National Institutes of Health which will lose $6 billion. A full budget is expected by mid-May.

It’s unclear how many people will be let go, or from which HHS agencies. A spokesman did not return a request for comment.

However, in a memo posted in February following a temporary hiring freeze ordered by Trump, HHS laid out numerous positions that would be exempt because they were important to public safety.

Those roles included drug and medical device reviewers as well as cybersecurity staff and those that respond to public health emergencies, like the Zika or Ebola outbreaks.

HHS is one of the smaller federal agencies in terms of how many people it employs; 80,000 compared to the more than 300,000 employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is, however, the largest federal agency in terms of budget, which is more than $1 trillion.

Generally, when there is a mandate to cut staff, agencies first cut staffers in administrative or supportive roles like human resources, contract procurement, and building facility staff, according to Jeff Neal, a senior vice president for ICF, a federal contact consulting firm and founder of the blog,, which tracks federal workforce issues.

Cutting HR and supportive personnel could harm efforts to ensure staffers are adequately trained, Neal said.

Lack of training was one of the reasons Dr. Patrick Conway, the CMS’s chief medical officer said the agency sometimes struggles to battle Medicare fraud.

Cutting procurement staff, which hire federal contractors, could undermine various programs that are critical to HHS’ mission, Neal said.

For instance, the CMS is working with contractors to assist providers on the roll out of value based models mandated by MACRA.

Olivia Golden, former assistant secretary for Children and Families at HHS said that some of the agency’s support staff is involved in compiling and releasing data that shows the impact of federal health initiatives and health disparities.

She also said the agency’s units are already lean. She had a staff of just under 1,400 for Children and Families which had a budget of $40 billion at the time she was assistant secretary under the Clinton adminstration.

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