Sequestration hits us all (and I do mean all)

Friday - 4/5/2013, 2:00am EDT

Although no permanent full-time fed has been furloughed yet, the fear of a string of unpaid mandatory days off has a lot of people on edge.

Many long-time civil servants, veterans of similar political food fights, are taking it in stride. Either because they don't think the worst will happen or because they think they will be able to weather it financially if it does happen.

Lower-paid feds, living paycheck-to-paycheck as well as single parents with no financial safety net, have every reason to worry. Each day they are furloughed means a 20 percent pay cut for that week. They can't afford 10 or 20 days without pay!

The fact that some members of Congress, Cabinet officers and now the president, are taking voluntary pay cuts is a noble gesture. But it won't pay the rent, or buy a week of school lunches.

(The Federal Employees Education and Assistance Fund, a feds-helping-feds charity, reports that contributions are up 10 percent this year. FEEA executive director Steve Bauer was our guest Wednesday on our Your Turn radio show. He said FEEA expects to be swamped with requests from feds for no-cost loans once the furloughs hit. To listen to the show for an explanation of the loans and grants, click here).

Some agencies are hedging their bets. Defense, thanks in part to the extension of the continuing resolution, has reduced planned furlough days from 22 to 14. Some agencies that planned to start in late March or this month have delayed furloughs. They hope Congress and the White House will reach some kind of agreement to avoid or minimize the impact of sequestration. Others, like the Environmental Protection Agency, say there is no way they can avoid furloughs.

Meantime, agencies are spending thousands of man-hours and no telling how much money figuring out how to comply with sequestration rules, juggle budgets and look for legal ways to transfer money from one program to another. The sequestration rules from the White House take up 158 pages. The Sequestration Q&A from the Office of Personnel Management is 49 pages. Each agency has its own version of the "Washington Doomsday Book."

So how do feds feel about the ongoing situation? I try to run a sample of emails to me each week. Others use the "comments" section to sound off on the issue of the day.

One reader took issue with Tuesday's column headlined "Backpedaling On Furloughs." Suffice it to say she didn't think much of it. For example:

  • "I just read your April 2 article on the sequester and I have to say it will be the last one I read. First there is the misleading headline, "Backpedaling on furloughs?" and then some of the internal commentary:
      'Defense was first out of the gate saying it would furlough nearly all of its 780,000 civilians for 22 days. No excuses, sir! Period. Then last week DoD, under new management, decided that 14 is a more reasonable number. Some insiders believe that when/if furloughs hit, a number of workers will be exempted.'
    "Really?! Was it just new management or more like the fact that DoD received reprogramming authority in the recent CR so they could lessen the pain of the 22 days amongst other things.

    "Is it really that difficult to write commentary based on facts? It's no wonder that many people, other than those getting a pay cut for something Congress failed to do, have no idea how bad sequestration in its original form was going to be. You, like most politicians, make it sound like it was all smoke and mirrors yet fail to acknowledge the level of congressional gymnastics done to blunt the impact to the voting public. The CR did more than avert a government shutdown, it gave flexibility and in some cases new money, to agencies so that the public would remain blissfully unaware for the most part about what was about to start touching every aspect of their lives. Maybe you didn't know that, too busy writing pithy articles devoid of substance?

    "To someone like me, this particular issue is real. I work for the Federal government as does my husband, so 22 days of lost pay or 14 days of lost pay it's still a lot. For the foreseeable future, it's necessities only for us. Some of our coworkers, neighbors, and friends don't have that luxury and will make choices between rent, medical care, and child care. If you want to write articles about sequestration or what agencies are doing with regard to implementation, stop being so lazy and engage in actual journalism. Talk to agency heads to find out why they've been able to make some of the changes or better yet why not talk to people who are being impacted. Somehow I doubt you will. Sincerely, Cheryl Edwards


  • NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

    Compiled by Jack Moore

    Experts aren't 100 percent sure who coined the camera-friendly phrase, "say cheese." One of the earliest references is from a 1943 interview former ambassador to the Soviet Union Joseph E. Davies gave to the Texas Big Spring Herald. Davies said he learned it from a "very great" politician," which many believe is a reference to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

    (Source: Today I Found Out)


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