Federal workers brace for furloughs

Government employees cannot escape budget cuts.
Associated Press
Mar 9, 2013

First there was a two-year pay freeze. Now furloughs loom, as federal agencies make personnel costs a prime target for across-the-board budget cuts that went into effect last week. The result: anxiety and low morale in a work force often envied for its job security.

"It would certainly put a strain on things," said Jonathan Schweizer, 61, an environmental engineer at the Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago who could be forced to take up to 13 days of unpaid leave this year. "I'd probably have to run up some credit card debt or defer maintenance on my home that I'd otherwise consider important."

Government agencies vary widely in how they are dealing with the "sequester," as the automatic cuts are called, according to labor unions that represent federal workers. Federal workers could face seven days of furloughs at the Housing and Urban Development Department, while Homeland Security personnel might see twice that number.

More than half of the nation's 2.1 million federal workers could be furloughed over the next six months. The federal government is the country's single largest employer, with its employees making up about 1.2 percent of the nation's work force.

"A lot of people think federal employees are fat-cat bureaucrats in Washington, but they don't realize more than 85 percent of these workers live outside of D.C.," said Tim Kauffman, spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees. "A lot of them are not highly paid folks, like VA nurses and emergency response workers."

AFGE, which represents more than 600,000 federal workers, is trying to keep track of all the different furlough plans as their members face the prospect of lost wages during mandatory time off without pay and growing frustration about getting work done.

It seems the federal workforce is under constant attack these days, particularly from Republican lawmakers who want to shrink government and contend federal employees are overpaid with more generous benefits compared to the private sector. Even President Barack Obama supported the pay freeze, though he has issued an executive order that will give workers a 0.5 percent cost-of-living raise set for April. Still, Congress could take action that prevents the raise from happening.

The latest unemployment numbers offered even more bad news for government workers as federal employment, excluding the U.S. Postal Service, shrank by 4,200 jobs last month. That's the fifth straight month of cuts, which may reflect a trend towards greater belt-tightening.

Schweizer conceded that working for the federal government remains a lot more stable than other industries, but he said the comfort level has changed.

"We've definitely been squeezed financially," he said. "People have left and haven't been replaced. That puts more pressure on us as far as getting the job done and it certainly hurts morale in my office."

Some agencies, including the Justice Department, already have sent out formal furlough notices to workers indicating furloughs of up to 14 days could begin as soon as April. All furloughs are subject to 30-day notices and to bargaining with unions representing government workers.

While the unions can't stop the furloughs, they can try to ease the pain for employees by negotiating different times, allowing employees to swap days, or other changes. Unions are also trying to persuade agencies to make other cuts that don't affect worker pay, such as cutting government contracts with private companies.

The Social Security Administration, for example, says it hopes to avoid furloughs altogether, instead saving money by terminating more than 1,500 temporary and other workers and losing more than 5,000 other positions through attrition.

"In some cases, the agencies can figure out ways to slow down federal contracts instead of taking it out of federal personnel," said Patrick Lester, director of fiscal policy for the Center for Effective Government.

But there are limits on flexibility. "If they are largely personnel-driven, there's no way to avoid personnel-related cuts," Lester said.

Meat and poultry inspectors at the Agriculture Department initially were told they might be furloughed for 11 consecutive days between June and July, possibly leading to a meat supply shortage and higher prices. But Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack backed away from that at a House hearing this week, telling lawmakers that the furloughs would not be consecutive after all.

"Furloughs are going to cause disruption," department spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said Wednesday. "We're looking to do it in ways that cause the minimum impact."

At the EPA, officials are planning up to 13 furlough days, with the first four coming between April and June 1, said John O'Grady, president of AFGE local 704. There also would be mandatory furlough days on May 24, July 5 and Aug. 30 — coming around the Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day holidays — that would shut the agency entirely, he said.

Some of the longest furloughs are expected at the Defense Department, where about 800,000 civilian employees face up to 22 unpaid days off over the next several months. The agency has not yet specified when those will happen, but some agencies may try to put off furloughs for several months in hopes that Congress will come up with a budget fix.

More flexibility could be coming soon. A House measure passed Wednesday that prevents a shutdown of federal agencies on March 27 also would grant the Pentagon greater latitude in implementing its share of short-term spending cuts. Senate Democrats could try to expand that flexibility to other agencies, potentially reducing the number of workers who are furloughed.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he plans to introduce legislation that would allow the Obama administration to exempt from furloughs essential federal employees, such as those who perform food inspections and other urgent functions, so the consequences of the budget cuts would not harm the economy or public safety.

Border Patrol agents at the Homeland Security Department, for example, face up to 14 days of furloughs and a moratorium on regular overtime pay, which could mean a 35 percent decline in wages for the rest of the fiscal year. Union officials warn that could mean trouble for border security, as agents aren't used to stopping work just because their shifts end, especially if they are chasing drug or gun smugglers.

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Follow Sam Hananel on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SamHananelAP

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Associated Press Writer Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report.

 

Comments

Erie County Resident

Poochie is trying to outdo himself by repeating BHO ... It's Bush's fault it's Bush's fault ...
Time to flip over the record poochie. It is now Obama's fault it's Obama's fault.

The Big Dog's back

I agree. It's Obama's "fault" everything is getting better.

KnuckleDragger

People are still dying in Afghanistan while BHO take $4million vacations, what's your point mangy mutt?

Now The Rest of...

More people are still dying, continued high unemployment in spite of obozo's promises, highest sustained gas prices, and a president that has played more golf that all recent presidents in history all while his wife fly her entourage around on the goverment dime.

FlyinHigh

Contago, if you could, please provide a link that no one has to "sign-up" for to access. Furthermore, of what little was provided in your article, gave an example of the US as a stock market and explained what GDP is. We know that a portion of the US budget is from tax dollars and from "borrowing". When I refer to the economy as being heavily affected, I am referring to the smaller paychecks USG workers will be bringing home. We will spend less, and it will affect all industries previously described. Here is an article from a REPUTABLE company, the New York Times... http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/0... .... Which describes how one state, California, will be affected in areas such as real estate, and higher education. This is not an opinion, this is a fact.

Contango

@ FlyinHigh:

Sorry about that. I read many business websites and blogs and this one is a good one.

Google: "U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio" and find your own.

In DC a "cut" means a slowdown in spending.

So instead of the Feds spending $46T over the next 10 yrs., they'll spend $44.8T.

If a reduction of $85B in annual federal spending represents the end of the U.S., then ALL citizens are in trouble, not just public ees.

Tom Coburn (R-OK) sent a "letter to OMB highlighting more than 1,362 duplicative programs accounting for at least $364.5 billion in federal spending every year as identified by the Government Accountability Office."

http://www.coburn.senate.gov/pub...

There are plenty of "smart" "cuts" to make.

FlyinHigh

X

FlyinHigh

I agree with you on that. At the end of the day I want what is best for our country.... Smart cuts, not just cuts ate what we should all want. Thanks for the response.

Now The Rest of...

If Obama had cut the waste of space bureaucrats in Washington that are political appointees of his he wouldn't had to reduce the real workers. It was administration who had the choice of who was cut within each department, but of course his gloom and doom would not have worked on his minions. Remember these alleged cuts were on INCREASED spending for the coming fiscal year, not a real reduction on spending. Its like your boss telling to that you will receive a $2000 raise next year and later changing it to only a $1000, did you really lose anything in the present year, you still get an increase next year only smaller.

The Big Dog's back

Cut all subsidies to the rich!

Contango

BD writes:

"Cut all subsidies to the rich!"

Good idea.

Since consumer spending equates to about 70% of GDP and the rich make up about 30% of consumer spending. It'll be great to see the U.S. economy tank by 1% or so by increasing their taxes.

The dumb Democrats forgot their lesson with the ill advised Luxury Tax which caused the firing of thousands of workers and the closing of hundreds of businesses.

http://www.csmonitor.com/1993/01...

KnuckleDragger

Let's not forget the devestation they once caused to the shipbuilding industry with the same tax.

swiss cheese kat's picture
swiss cheese kat

obamas golf weekend at the yacht club with Tiger Woods cost taxpayers over a million dollars—enough money to save 341 federal workers from furlough. Your beloved leader is an idiot.

The Big Dog's back

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

VOTENO

Lay off more of these government workers!

FlyinHigh

Instead of adding this comment, twice, could you come up with an intelligent response?

VOTENO

Lay off more!

ladydye_5

I hope you have a good paying job with LOTS of taxes coming out.....We will be living on government welfare you will be providing. Thanks for wishing us to crash and burn....never mind my husband is also a VETERAN that is getting the shaft. Glad our family made the sacrifices we did, only to get burned in the end. Sleep well VOTENO, while everyone else fails.

VOTENO

I'm also a Veteran. A combat veteran to be exact. I love my country and unless we get this debt under control we are all going to crash and burn. The government is out of control and needs to reign itself in. Will good people lose their jobs? Yes. The same thing happens in the private sector. Just because you are a veteran doesn't mean you are guaranteed a job. I've had a job since the day I got out. Did I register at the VA? Yes. Have I used it? No. I have my own insurance paid for by my employer. Your husbands a veteran. Big deal. Lot's of us are veterans.

ladydye_5

Thanks for the awesome pep talk....thanks for looking out for fellow brother. I understand the government debt needs to be taken care of....cutting vital services at a military base should NOT be on the list. Cut the senators pay, cut the presidents pay, QUIT paying for OTHER countries armies, quit feeding other countries hungry (we have our own here in America) Sleep well knowing that military bases and everything that supports them is taking a cut. I am now done with my tirade and you can say what you want.

KnuckleDragger

If you think your husband is getting the shaft, you should take a look at what they are doing to military retirees and their families in regards to their healthcare. As it stands, in Oct even welfare recipients will have better healthcare plans than retired military.

Minuteman

"Government employees cannot escape budget cuts."

Not so, I know where to find 435 government employees exempt from layoffs or furloughs. They also found a way to get out of Obamacare. We all need to hop on that wagon.

OMG.LOL.WT_

“Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that man behind the tree.”

BW1's picture
BW1

It's interesting how the sequester excludes entitlement payments. So, people who actually WORK to EARN money from the government (set aside for a moment the question of whether what they do has value) get screwed, but we dare not interrupt payments to those who sit on their behinds and collect a check. Sort of like telling the electric company or your doctor you can't pay your bill because you gave too much money to a panhandler on the street corner.

swiss cheese kat's picture
swiss cheese kat

You Liberals keep acting like sheep and chug down the Obama-worship kool-aid from ALL the mainstream media outlets. It gives us great laughter.

Erie County Resident

The USA needs to do what is right.
First terminate Obama with his administration machine and everyone in Congress.
Second stop all foreign aid.
Then Domestic programs could be restored fully with no fuss.

Final step replace everyone in DC with non-politicians to represent the PEOPLE instead of their party as well as uphold the Constitution as written.

TOPGUN01

SOUDS GREAT!ARE YOU FROM MARS?OR THE MOON?

OMG.LOL.WT_

A good place for cuts would be TSA that allows stabs of 3 inches or hits with a bat if no longer than 24 inches.
Next, the FCC. They can't (or won't) stop harassment phone calls.

SamAdams

It's unfortunate that anybody is losing jobs over this, especially when there's no real reason for it. Oh, yeah, government is bloated, and there are without doubt extraneous personnel. But that has nothing to do with the so-called sequester. All that the sequester is is a cut in INCREASES. There's still an increase, it's just not as large as had been requested/desired. So why all the furloughs?

The simple answer: The administration (and this is reportedly on record with the Department of Agriculture and National Parks personnel) wants to ensure the sequester hurts ordinary Americans as much as possible and that Republicans get blamed for it.

Am I all that sorry that gung ho Obama supporters and big government fans are being hurt? Nope. But that's as a group. Every individual being furloughed has bills. They've got families and mortgages. It's hard not to feel sympathy on THAT level!

Here's a thought: There was a headline story just a week ago that government agencies are going to talk about doing fewer seminars and destination training than they used to do to save money. There's been discussion of taking away the private jets for certain government officials. THAT'S where cuts can and should be made: With money that shouldn't have been spent in the FIRST dam*ed place!

Obama doesn't need to spend millions to fly to Florida to golf with Tiger Woods, either, and the Obama kiddies don't have to head to Aspen to ski. But no, the President would rather hurt defense readiness and cause hardship to the middle class families he claims to fight for instead. And it's ALL politics, boys and girls. ALL of it. (Heard yesterday that the Border Patrol is also being hard hit with personnel reductions, though I can't see that'll make much difference since the feds typically can't be bothered to control the borders anyway...)

Meanwhile, Senator Rand Paul RETURNED money to the federal government. Every Senator is given a certain budget to spend on his office. Paul returned about 25%. 25%!!! Too bad sequestration didn't start where it NEEDED to, and that's in the very heart of D.C.

Darwin's choice

Taxpayers spent 1.4 billion on obama last year....http://dailycaller.com/2012/09/2...

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