SSA, IRS take different paths on sequestration furloughs

Thursday - 2/28/2013, 6:25pm EST

The Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration — two of the largest federal agencies with very public missions — are taking divergent paths when it comes to dealing with the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.

Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller said his agency has already frozen hiring, reviewed contract and grant funding, and cut spending on travel, training and supplies.

But the biggest line in the agency's budget is for employee pay, Miller said in his note.

"As a result, if sequestration occurs and our budget is reduced for the remainder of the fiscal year, it appears that a number of furlough days will be necessary given the size of the anticipated budget cut to the IRS," Miller said. "Let me be clear: We know that asking you to take even one furlough day is difficult. That's why we've spent so much time and energy trying to minimize the impact on our employees as much as possible while carrying out our mission. We will continue to look for cost savings in the coming weeks and months."

The one-day-per-pay-period furlough days — a total of five to seven — will kick in sometime in summer after the end of tax-filing season, Miller said, and will likely last through the end of the fiscal year.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS workers, said it has begun informal negotiations with the agency over the furloughs.

Agencies are required to bargain with their unions over the workforce reductions and must provide employees 30 days' notice.

Meanwhile, officials with the Social Security Administration said by restricting spending to mission-critical activities and through other cost-savings measures such as a hiring freeze, limited overtime and reduced agency travel — SSA hopes to avoid furloughing employees.

"I know sequestration is on all of our minds, said Acting SSA Commissioner Carolyn Colvin in a message to employees. "Clearly, this is a challenging time for us all. I want you to know that, here at SSA, we will work to minimize the risk of furloughs that would further harm services and program integrity efforts in the event of a sequester."

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