Analysis: In sequester, managers should start planning for workforce reductions

Thursday - 5/10/2012, 10:26am EDT

Steve Bell, senior policy director, Bipartisan Policy Center

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Budget analyst Steve Bell says there is "no chance" Congress will be able to pass a plan to avoid sequestration before the November elections. The automatic, across-the-board cuts would go into effect Jan. 2, 2013, as part of last summer's deficit deal.

Bell, the senior policy director of the Bipartisan Policy Center, said both President Barack Obama and the House have put forth plans to avoid the $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade.

However, those plans are more symbolic than practical.

"Those two parties have been able to now put on the table for messaging and political purposes, 'It's not our fault if the sequester happens.' This is kind of protecting yourself, to be polite about it, but it's not going to become law," Bell said in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

Agencies also are not getting any guidance from the Office of Management and Budget about how to prepare for a potential sequestration. OMB Controller Danny Werfel testified before the House Budget Committee last month saying it was "premature" to begin planning for the cuts.

The lack of guidance is leaving agency heads "trying to figure it out on their own," Bell said.

If the automatic cuts do go into effect, agencies that don't have many procurement contracts will be hit hardest, he said. Agencies such as the Treasury Department — with most of its costs coming from personnel, operations and maintenance — will most likely have to turn their attention to workforce reductions in order to cut costs.

"We don't expect the sequestration in any way to be dealt with, waived, delayed enhanced in any way until after the November elections," Bell said. "That means a prudent manager is saying, 'Well, what am I going to do when this opening occurs in June? Am I going to fill that spot?'"

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