Furloughs: Can we 'afford' the savings?

Thursday - 6/19/2014, 2:00am EDT

If you are in a game, and the projected score is 32,000 to 0 (with you being on the zero side) it may be time to rethink your game plan.

If your significant other says "no way" 32,000 times — without you ever reaching first base — you probably should get a new line. Or a new S.O. Or just go away.

We're talking here about the first round of sequestration- triggered budget cuts, which began last year and resulted in the furloughs — some extended — of 800,000 civilian federal workers.

The furloughs, which many thought would never happen, resulted from the White House-designed, Congress-botched sequestration program. The concept of "sequestration" was so weird, so unusual, most people had to look it up.

The threat of sequestration — in this case a decade-long series of automatic across-the-board cuts — was supposed to scare politicians. Scare them into doing their job of budgeting, appropriating and sometimes compromising with the opposition. Democrats thought they had Republicans cornered. Republicans thought the Democrats would never dare. As often happens, the threat of a political stink bomb nobody wanted to go off went off anyhow.

The first round of sequestration forced a total of $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and forced a number of federal agencies to furlough civilian employees. Defense, the biggest, took the most hits. It originally planned 22 furlough days, but whittled that down to 11, then six days of actual furloughs. Each furlough day in each agency meant a 20 percent pay cut that week for workers. It was a nuisance for some, a major we-can't-make-the-mortgage event for others.

The White House and Congress created the sequestration stink bomb, then allowed it to go off. Yet members of Congress and most of the Presidential staff remained on the job (with full pay) looking for ways to get us out of the mess they got us in. That's SOP in Washington.

On Wednesday, Federal News Radio's Michael O'Connell looked at a Government Accountability Office report, which said what Defense should do when looking at future furlough savings.

It said the Army furloughed more than 221,000 civilians, while exempting 45,000 as essential. Navy furloughed 152,000 civilians and spared 53,000. Air Force sent 57,000 home and kept 23,000 civilian on the job, and other DoD agencies furloughed 92,000 and exempted 20,000.

As part of the furlough follies, federal unions advised employees who were furloughed to appeal their cases to the Merit Systems Protection Board. The very small MSPB normally gets about 5,000 to 6,000 cases a year. Because of the furloughs, it got 32,000 appeals. That's the most since it was jammed up with appeals from 11,000-plus air traffic controllers who were fired after going out on an illegal strike in the early 1980s.

The scoreboard is:

Appeals denied: all, to date. Appeals approved (won): none, to date.

MSPB has said it needs more funding to finish off the furlough appeals (which employees are entitled to) even though most can probably see the handwriting on the wall.

The backlog, and the outcome, is not the fault of the MSPB, nor the employees. The blame rests with furlough-proof politicians (of both parties) at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Thanks to the ultimate partisanship, they have developed a unique role: They create, then cure, the problems.

Sometimes.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

More Americans think including an Oxford comma — the final comma before "and" in a list of three or more things — is more grammatically correct than leaving it out, according to a new survey. Fifty-seven percent of Americans prefer the extra comma compared to 43 percent who don't.

(Source: FiveThirtyEight)


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