The Government Is Open Again…Now What?

The Government Is Open Again…Now What?

by Scott Klinger, 10/18/2013

Just after midnight on Oct. 17, President Obama signed legislation that avoided a dangerous default and reopened the government after the third-longest government shutdown in history. Under the terms of the deal, the government was funded through Jan. 15, 2014, and the debt limit was extended until Feb. 7, 2014.

A 29-member bipartisan conference committee, heavily weighted toward Senate representatives, was established and charged with developing budget recommendations by Dec. 13. Given the recent failures of such efforts to resolve differences between the House and Senate, the chances of success this time around are slim, suggesting another potential showdown after the holidays. As the committee begins its work, it is clear that the next couple of months will be an intense time full of opportunities to influence both policy and public opinion. Continue reading “The Government Is Open Again…Now What?”

In Focus: Who Faces Furloughs?

In Focus: Who Faces Furloughs?

Many government offices are entirely empty due to the shutdown.
Many government offices are entirely empty due to the shutdown. 06photo/Shutterstock.com

During a government shutdown, federal agencies decide which employees to furlough and which to keep on the job. Excepted employees include workers “who are performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property or performing certain other types of excepted work,” according to furlough guidance from the Office of Personnel Management. In other words, they aren’t furloughed. Employees who are not funded through annual appropriations are exempt from unpaid leave if the government shuts down.

How many employees an agency furloughs during a government shutdown varies, and tends to depend on mission. At some departments, including Veterans Affairs, most of the workforce stays on the job. At the Housing and Urban Development Department, however, the opposite is true: Most employees are furloughed. Continue reading “In Focus: Who Faces Furloughs?”

Government executives could rake in bonuses as other workers furloughed

Government executives could rake in bonuses as other workers furloughed

4:25 PM, May 18, 2013   |
By Lindsay Wise McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — An elite group of federal employees is set to receive cash bonuses despite this year’s automatic budget cuts, according to a report by a Senate subcommittee.

The report showed that members of the government’s highly paid Senior Executive Service — who make up less than 1% of the federal work force — had received more than $340 million in bonuses from 2008 through 2011. The bonuses came on top of annual salaries that ranged from $119,000 to $179,000.

In a process known as sequestration, $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts took effect March 1, forcing the government to slash services and furlough workers. A month later, the Obama administration froze bonuses for the vast majority of federal workers. Continue reading “Government executives could rake in bonuses as other workers furloughed”

Why is sequestration bad?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why is sequestration bad?

Credit: Washington Post, altered by Chemjobber

So, as promised, the second part on the “fiscal cliff.” Apart from the big tax increases that were planned because of the fiscal cliff, there are also large budget cuts planned. What’s undesired for both parties in Congress is the targets of the cuts and the means by which they will be applied. From the Washington Post:

Legislators don’t have any discretion with the across-the-board cuts: They are intended to hit all affected programs equally, though the cuts to individual areas will range from 7.6 percent to 9.6 percent (and 2 percent to Medicare providers). The indiscriminate pain is meant to pressure legislators into making a budget deal to avoid the cuts.

Naturally, the science funding agencies will be hit because of this. From C&EN’s article on the issue:

For example, the National Institutes of Health, part of the Department of Health & Human Services, faces a total of $11.3 billion in cuts over the first five years of sequestration. Elsewhere, the Environmental Protection Agency could lose $213 million and the Department of Energy could be out $4.6 billion.

For example, the National Science Foundation’s average annual budget over the first five years is $5.6 billion, assuming congressional appropriators hold all discretionary accounts flat to mirror the overall cap set by the law. Each year of this period, it would lose an average of $421 million to deficit reduction, for a total five-year loss of $2.1 billion, according to AAAS.

…Sequestration would make that situation worse, says Steven Fluharty, senior vice provost for research at the University of Pennsylvania. The university received $900 million in R&D awards in 2012, 80% of which came from the federal government. He estimates that sequestration could cost the university $50 million to $60 million per year in research funding and more than 1,100 jobs.

But what is immediately relevant to me is that graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and their programs will be affected. I know that there are many who think that this might be a blessing in disguise, but I don’t think that’s the case — subjecting all federally-funded science to more-or-less arbitrary cuts (and basically subjecting academic science to funding decimation) does not seem to be wise.

I think the case could be made for altering federal funding of R&D away from its human-health-first-and-foremost/keep-Granny-alive priority to something that focused more on the basic and less on the translational, and more on the long-term than the short-term. But that’s an argument for another time. Sequestration is big and random (as opposed to big and prioritized), and therefore undesired. The House of Representatives and the President should come to an agreement and sooner rather than later.*

*I know that’s a lame conclusion, but I do not love politics on this blog. The rest of the internet is better for that.