Furloughs: Different strokes for different agencies

Thursday - 3/28/2013, 2:00am EDT

Sequestration is the worst thing that's happened to the government since the last worst thing. It may even be worse than that.

Although feds escaped the worst part of the recession — getting laid off or taking pay cuts — the prospect of furloughs over the next six months is difficult. Especially after two-plus years without pay raises. But...

When you look at how federal agencies say they are planning to handle furloughs, you wonder if they are using the same play book, or work for the same government.

When furloughs appeared on the horizon, the Defense Department, the largest and one of the most visible departments, said everybody-into-the-pool. It originally said virtually all of its 780,000 civilians would be furloughed for a maximum 22-day period. The 30-day notices were supposed to go out this week. Now, Defense has said they will go out the first week of April. That means, the first furloughs would hit in early to mid-May. While some tweaking may be in order, because of budget changes, some employees wonder what's up.

[Editor's note: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel decided Wednesday to cut the number of furlough days for DoD civilian employees from 22 to 14. Read more here.]

A long-time Army civilian said her office "...has been told, officially, that we are looking at 22 days of furloughs. I have also been told, unofficially, that there is enough funds available to pay the people if funding flexibility is given by Congress. If this is true, that my organization can absorb its share of sequester cuts without destroying the efficiency, moral, and financial capability of the workforce ... why is the DoD leadership not pursuing this authority? Salute and execute does not have the same old patriotic feeling when the result is angst and potential personal financial ruin. "

The furlough blueprint varies from agency to agency. The Transportation Security Administration doesn't have plans for furloughs. But that doesn't mean there aren't problems ahead. On our Your Turn radio show yesterday, AFGE President J. David Cox said there is a hiring freeze that will impact the traveling public sooner rather than later. He said TSA has a 25 percent turnover rate and it varies from city-to-city but is higher at major metro area airports, like JFK, O'Hare, Dulles and BWI. Because of sequestration, he said, "things are going to get worse every day."

Some agencies are benefiting from exceptions Congress has given them, or the ability to move funds around. Agriculture says it expects to furlough about one of every three employees, but that poultry and meat inspections won't be hit.

Justice has announced that federal prison guards (one of the more challenging, dangerous jobs in government) won't be furloughed.

But a look at Federal News Radio's Sequestration Tracker (which tracks furloughs) shows plans are all over the place. Customs and Border Patrol sent notices March 7. It expects up to 560,000 will be furloughed up to 14 days as does the Department of Homeland Security. The Enviromental Protection Agency is working out details for a total of up to 13 furlough days, while Housing and Urban Development has furloughs planned for two days in May, one in June, two in July and two in August. Furloughs at the Internal Revenue Service could run between 5 and 7 days.

Last week, I talked with a long-time reporter whose beat is exclusively the Pentagon. I said I would be surprised if Defense does the full 22 day furlough deal. He said he would be surprised if it doesn't.

We'll review the numbers to see if youth and energy (his) triumphs over age and cynicism (mine) when the fiscal year ends. So, what's your gut feeling?

Meantime if you want to see what your agency is planning, and keep up with the latest changes, click here to view the Sequestration Furlough Tracker.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

Before they settled on the now famous moniker "Google," the search engine's creators, Larry page and Sergey Brin, called their creation "BackRub." The site was first launched in 1996.

(Source: Today I Found Out)


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