Sequestration solutions: Furloughs, buyouts, nothing

Thursday - 5/30/2013, 2:00am EDT

The ongoing sequestration process is hard on federal workers — and many taxpayer customers. But from the outside, at least so far, it sure is fun to watch. Especially if you like train wrecks.

The White House plan, which Congress allowed to happen, has caused chaos in thousands of federal offices. Workers say that many, many man (and woman) hours have been diverted from their regular duties to make sense of sequestration's across-the-board cuts which, in reality, have been anything but.

Although some individual employees are or will be hurting financially (each one-day furlough represents a 20 percent pay cut), the gloom-and-doom scenario predicted hasn't hit yet. Some experts say if it continues, it could slow economic recovery and hit many communities that are built around federal installations and military bases.

Some places, like the giant Defense Department, started out saying everybody would be furloughed for 22 days. Upon reflection, and with some help from Congress, DoD has shaved that down to 11 days for most, but not all, employees. Some people believe that number will be revised downward again.

While some agencies (like IRS, HUD, and EPA) are furloughing employees, others say no problem. They can cope without cutting into the payroll. Some agencies are under a hiring freeze, others are actively recruiting. Some have found ways to comply without forcing employees to stay home without pay.

But, the IRS furloughs, far from saving money, are costing Uncle Sam a ton of revenue each day employees can't show up for work.

At least one federal operation, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, plans long-range savings by offering employees $25,000 buyouts. BBG, with about 1,650 workers, told Government Executive that many of its employees are eligible for the buyouts if they apply by May 31. Those who are accepted must be off the payroll by the end of June. A recent GAO report said, in official terms, that the BBG is a tad pudgy, so the buyouts will help it slim down both in payroll and body mass too.

Oklahoma relief

Thanks to a special matching offer deal, the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund has raised $66,000 this month for its natural disasters and furlough fund. FEEA, a feds-helping-feds charity, has been swamped with requests from furloughed feds for no-interest loans to help them pay their bills. It has and will give loans and grants to victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes earlier this month. During the month of May, corporate sponsors GEICO, Blue Cross-Blue Shield and Long Term Care Partners have each pledged to match donations by individuals. With one day (tomorrow) left in the matching donations countdown FEEA has raised $20,500 from individuals which translates to $66,000 with the matching pledges. For details, click here.

Postal raid?

Cliff Guffey, president of the American Postal Workers Union, says the financially-troubled USPS is having its pockets picked by Uncle Sam. Guffey says the Treasury has temporarily tapped into the civil service retirement fund and is also borrowing from the Postal Service's retiree health benefits fund. Congress forces the USPS, but not other federal agencies, to set aside money to pre-fund retiree health costs. The Treasury has "borrowed" money from the federal retirement fund before to avoid defaulting on the national debt. The money has always been replaced, but Guffey says that's not the point. He says the USPS is on shaky financial ground because Congress treats its finances differently and that this latest double-dip by the Treasury will only make things worse.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

From Mental Floss:

"You know that old trick where you tap someone lightly on the opposite shoulder from behind to fool them? The Indonesians have a word for it: Mencolek."


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