Furloughs: WTF?

Friday - 8/23/2013, 2:00am EDT

When federal workers talk about the furloughs of 2013, they frequently just say "WTF," which translates into "What're The Facts?"

People in Defense, the IRS and HUD wonder why they've had them and Justice, Interior and the State Department didn't?

Good question.

People at EPA and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission wonder why they were furloughed and workers at Commerce and Health and Human Services continued to draw full paychecks. By OMB but not OPM?

Good question.

Where did the sequestration, which many say should never have happened, come from? This is good because Republicans can blame Democrats, and Democrats can blame Republicans. In fact, both sides — left and right, Congress and the White House — have fingerprints all over the sequestration bomb.

On Feb. 22 (incidentally the birthday of George I-cannot-tell-a-lie Washington), the Washington Post's Bob Woodward said that based on his reporting for his latest book, "The Price of Politics" (which has been pretty good so far), "the automatic spending cuts were initiated by the White House and were the brainchild of (then chief of staff) Jack Lew and White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors..."

Woodward — who wrote "All the President's Men" with fellow Post reporter Carl Bernstein — reported that the president personally approved the plan and that Lew and Nabors presented it to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) He even has the date: July 27, 2011 and the time, 2:30 p.m. To read the story in full, click here.

Sequestration, with the threat of furloughs and program shutdowns, was apparently supposed to be a threat, a bargaining chip, a Dr. Strangelove bomb that was never intended to happen. But many Republicans, especially fed-haters in the House, embraced it. To the surprise of a lot of very smart, important and knowledgeable people who said it would never happen, it happened.

In Washington when we say "S" happens, we mean sequestration. Because it does and did.

When sequestration took effect, nobody seemed to know how it happened or what would be next. FAA furloughed some air traffic controllers, and the 535- member Frequent Flyer Club we call the House and Senate freaked out. Result: No more furloughs for air traffic controllers. Especially at the height of the political vacation season.

Social Security, a favorite of the public, was spared furloughs.

The not-so-popular IRS was hit with furloughs. The resulting tax revenue lost, or delayed, is certainly a lot more than the government "saved" by telling its biggest money-maker/collector to take some time off.

Defense, the largest federal operation, said at first it would have 22 furlough days between March and Oct. 1. Navy said it could avoid them but was apparently advised this was to be a we-are-all-in-the-same-boat operation.

Over the past few months, many agencies found other savings that allowed them to cut back the number of furloughs. Defense went from a projected 22 to six. That's six more than some people can afford, but still better than the original plan. Other agencies also reduced their furlough days.

Because of the furloughs, thousands of federal workers have applied for no-interest, $1,000 loans to the Federal Employees Education and Assistance fund. FEEA, funded by donations from feds and generous corporate grants, is just about broke and would be happy to take a contribution from you.

Because of the furloughs, the tiny Merit Systems Protection Board is swamped with grievances that could take a long, long time — and lots of money — to process. MSPB's entire national staff, which could fit in a 300- seat restaurant, has had to pitch in to solve a problem that it, nor the people who have filed complaints, didn't create.

The good news is furlough season is drawing to a close. And there may be more good news about reduced furlough time for some agencies.

The bad news is that Congress will return from its latest vacation after Labor Day. Less than a month before the start of the new fiscal year. And 2014 could bring layoffs, which would be a lot worse than furloughs. A lot worse.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Nicole Ogrysko

Death and Taxes magazine compiled a wonderful list of 18 words or phrases that unfortunately, we no longer use. Here are a few:

Beef-witted: having an inactive brain, thought to be from eating too much beef

Resistentialism: the seemingly spiteful behavior shown by inanimate objects

Spermologer: a picker-up of trivia, of current news, a gossip monger, what we would today call a columnist

Who knows, maybe Senior Correspondent Mike Causey, your faithful spermologer, will begin to use them in his columns.


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