Furlough Watch: Agency-by-Agency Impacts of Sequestration

Furlough Watch: Agency-by-Agency Impacts of Sequestration

 Air traffic controllers will be among those furloughed.
Air traffic controllers will be among those furloughed. Mike Stewart/AP file photo

This report has been updated. 

Across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration are having have serious implications for federal workers, as mandatory unpaid furloughs planned for hundreds of thousands of employees begin to take effect. We have compiled a list of possible agency-by-agency plans and effects. We will update the list as more information becomes available. Please use the comment section below to let us know if you have additional information about your agency.

Agriculture Department: The department will not need to furlough food safety inspectors, due to the continuing resolution bill signed March 26.  An email sent by a senior official on April 24 to employees at the Farm Service Agency said that the stop-gap funding bill passed by Congress would prevent furloughs at the agency. Still, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told a House panel on April 18 that budget cuts would mean a “high probability” of furloughs for employees the Rural Development division.

Air Force: The Washington Post reported that employees in combat zones, non-appropriated funds employees, and foreign nationals would be excepted from furloughs. The Post also said that further exceptions would be allowed for “safety of life or property.” An Air Force spokeswoman told Government Executive that all Air Force civilian police, security guards and firefighters would be subject to furlough “except at installations where the manning level is under 25 percent.”

Army: The Army formally clarified its furlough plans in a memo published March 20. Officials wrote that the Office of the Secretary of Defense had excepted employees deployed in a combat zone, non-appropriated fund employees, foreign national employees, political appointees, civilians funded through the National Intelligence Program and Foreign Military Sales workers. The memo also included overtime exceptions for workers ensuring “health, safety, and security of personnel or property.”

Broadcasting Board of Governors: The agency does not anticipate needing to furlough employees this year, according to a memo obtaind by Government Executive. BBG is required to reduce spending by approximately 5 percent, or $37.6 million, by September 30, the memo said. It will do so by freezing hiring, eliminating bonuses, postponing technical upgrades and reducing broadcasts.

Customs and Border Protection: Started sending furlough notices to all 60,000 of its employees on March 7, but as of April 1, the furloughs were postponed.

Defense Department: Secretary Leon Panetta on Feb. 20 informed lawmakers that sequestration would force the Pentagon to put the “vast majority” of its 800,000 civilian workers on administrative furlough. The furloughs were set to occur one day a week for up to 22 discontinuous work days, but in late March Defense officials announced they would reduce them to 14 days. (See separate Air Force and Army entries.)

Education Department:  Secretary Arne Duncan testified Feb. 14 before the Senate Appropriations Committee that he expected furloughs. “The sequester would … likely require the department to furlough many of its own employees for multiple days,” he wrote in a Feb. 1 letter to the committee.” The letter did not provide an exact number of employees who would be affected.

Environmental Protection Agency: Employees can expect 10 unpaid furlough days through the end of the fiscal year on September 30, according to The Washington Post. Officials had expected 13 furlough days, but acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe noted that the agency’s careful money management had allowed the the number to be reduced.

Federal Aviation Administration: Almost all 47,000 workers would be furloughed for one-to-two days per pay period, according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA head Michael Huerta. Employees should be prepared for 11 furlough days, beginning as early as April 7, according to a Washington Post update. Air traffic control towers at 100 airports would be closed, and midnight shifts at many smaller airports would be dropped. This could lead to 90-minute delays during peak travel times for flights to major cities, LaHood and Huerta said in their Feb. 22 letter to airline industry groups and unions. The FAA announced on March 22 that 149 federal contract towers would be shuttered beginning April 7.

Federal courts: 20,000 employees could be furloughed for 16 days.

Government Accountability Office: Plans to avoid furloughs, according to The Washington Post. But, the sequester would affect hiring, employee benefits and travel and contract spending, according to Feb. 26 testimony from Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

Government Printing Office: Will save money by scaling back technology and other investments,  but “if necessary, a furlough of GPO’s workforce may also be implemented,” acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cook testified before a House subcommittee on Feb. 26.

Homeland Security Department: Law enforcement personnel would face furloughs of up to 14 days, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a Feb. 13 letter to House lawmakers. She did not provide a specific number of employees affected but said it would be a “significant portion” of the department’s front-line law enforcement staff (see Customs and Border Protection and Transportation Security Adminsitration entries).

Housing and Urban Development: memorandum of understanding signed by agency executives and union officials says seven unpaid furlough days for employees won’t happen until May 24. A union representative told Government Executive that the department would shut down on furlough days, except for the Government National Mortgage Association and the inspector general’s office, neither of which are paid from the HUD salaries and expenses account.

Interior Department: Secretary Ken Salazar has warned about furloughs of thousands of employees. The National Parks Service plans to furlough permanent staff if other cost-savings measures fail.

Internal Revenue Service: Employees could expect a total of five to seven furlough days by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, acting Commissioner Steven T. Miller said in a memo to employees. The furloughs would begin “sometime in the summer, after the filing season ends,” he wrote. Employees would have no more than one furlough day per pay period.

Justice Department:  Attorney General Eric Holder said the department would not have to implement sequestration furloughs in fiscal 2013. He said Justice was able to avoid mandatory unpaid leave by taking extraordinary actions that will not be available next year if lawmakers fail to agree on a plan to replace sequestration.

Labor Department: Sent 4,700 employees furlough notices on March 5. A document posted on the department’s website said furloughs would begin on April 15, and continue through Sept. 21. All furlough scheduling would begin on March 29, and half of the furlough hours must be taken by July 13.

Merit Systems Protection Board: MSPB does not anticipate needing to furlough its employees this year, according to Executive Director Jim Eisenmann. However, as Government Executive reported in February, the board is preparing for the possibility of processing and adjudicating appeals of furloughs by federal employees.

NASA: 20,500 contractors could lose their jobs. The agency has not notified federal employees of any furlough possibility, but a spokesman told Government Executive on Feb. 25 that “all possible effects” of sequestration are “still being assessed.” In a series of memos posted by website SpaceRef on March 22, and confirmed by a NASA spokeswoman on Monday, David S. Weaver, the agency’s associate administrator for communications, told employees that sequestration would force immediate cuts to “all education and public outreach activities.” This includes many educational workshops, videos, and “any other activity whose goal is to reach out to external and internal stakeholders and the public concerning NASA.” In a later memo, he exempted breaking news updates, mission announcements and responses to media inquiries from the suspension.

National Institutes of Health: Director Francis Collins said during a Feb. 25 conference call with reporters that the agency would “do everything we can to avoid furloughs.” He said that furloughs would barely help the agency manage a 5 percent cut since a bulk of the budget was spent on grants and funding for research. Areas that could face the axe include travel and conference spending, Collins said.

National Labor Relations Board: Has issued formal furlough notices, according to OMB.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Employees can expect up to four furlough days through September, acting NOAA administrator Kathy Sullivan said on April 15.  “Our current proposal includes plans to close a majority of our offices entirely on four specific days,” she said. “The proposal is intended to extend federal holiday weekends, when possible, which provides additional utilities and other facility cost savings.“ She said the four days being proposed were July 5, July 19, Aug. 5 and Aug. 30.

National Park Service: In a March 20 statement, NPS said that sequestration-related budget cuts would force reduced visitor hours at several major attractions including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, and the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. The agency noted that the budget cutbacks did not necessitate furloughs of current staff.

National Nuclear Security Administration: Acting chief Neile Miller said it might not become clear until a month into sequestration whether the agency’s employees will have to be furloughed as a result of the across-the-board federal budget cuts.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Has ruled out furloughs or salary cuts.

Office of Management and Budget: An OMB spokesman told Government Executive that 480 employees subject to administrative furloughs were issued notices on March 7. Employees will be required to take 10 unpaid furlough days for the pay periods between April 21 and Sept. 7.

Office of Personnel Management: Plans to find the required savings through a hiring freeze and administrative cuts, rather than furloughs.

Small Business Administration: The Small Business Administration will rely on staff cuts made through early retirements in 2012 to avoid furloughs, according to an Associated Press report.

Smithsonian: Does not anticipate furloughs.

Social Security Administration: Remains “uncertain” about reducing its employees’ hours, which would save about $25 million per furlough day, according to a Feb. 1 letter to Congress. It will instead try to reach the reduced budget level through attrition.

State Department: Won’t need furloughs, at least through June 30, according to The Washington Post.

Transportation Security Administration: Isn’t planning any furloughs; will rely on a hiring freeze and reductions in overtime, according to a union official.

Treasury Department: Acting Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin told the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier in February that the department would try to avoid furloughs by instituting hiring freezes, and reducing spending on support, travel, training and supplies, but noted that if the sequester takes effect, “most Treasury employees would face furloughs, which would have a cascading effect on employees’ families as well as on the economy at large.” The Internal Revenue Service would be particularly hard hit, he said (see separate IRS entry).

Veterans Affairs DepartmentMostly exempt from sequestration.

White House: Assistant chef Sam Kass on April 9 told reporters he would be furloughed, but the White House did not offer further details, according to Reuters.

Author: AFGE Local 704

Representing over 900 bargaining unit employees working at the U.S. EPA Region 5 Offices in Chicago, Ann Arbor, MI and Westlake, OH.

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