Many federal enforcement agencies still are planning furloughs because of sequestration, despite the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA)’s April 27, 2013, suspension of furloughs on the heels of 11th-hour congressional action.
“Without giving the FAA any additional funding, the bill allows the Secretary of Transportation to transfer funds already in other FAA accounts, which the agency can use to avoid reductions in operations and staffing. This measure will force a stop to these needless furloughs,” said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., on April 26, 2013. The FAA had instituted furloughs as of April 21.
During the furlough, the percentage of flights at U.S. airports with one hour or greater taxi-out times doubled from 0.7 percent of all flights to 1.4 percent versus the month prior to sequestration. And the percentage with 31-60 minute taxi-out times rose from 7.2 percent to 9.5 percent of all departures.
But the money saved by FAA furloughs was a blip compared to the amount furloughs might save larger agencies and departments. As White House press secretary Jay Carney observed at an April 29 press conference, the FAA would have saved $253 million through its nixed furloughs. This was “a drop in the bucket”—less than a half-percent of the more than $80 billion that the sequester represents over seven months remaining in fiscal year 2013, he said.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) may furlough 700,000 civilian jobs. And the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) are contemplating furloughs as well.
So far, each agency and department is determining how many furlough days might be instituted on a case-by-case basis, depending on their sequestered budgets. As with the FAA, some departments, such as the U.S. Department of Justice, have been responsive to employee and union pressure to reduce the number of furlough days or not furlough anyone.
The result is an ever-changing crazy quilt of varying furlough days that varies from agency to agency and department to department.
The DOD responded to the American Federation of Government Employees’ (AFGE) request to cancel planned furlough of department civilian workers by reducing the furlough of more than 700,000 civilian employees from 22 days to 14 days.
“Many of the services and defense agencies say they can reduce or eliminate the number of furlough days for their workers, and they should be allowed to exercise this flexibility,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. “Forcing all employees off the job without pay for the same number of days out of some misguided notion of fairness is damaging to employees and undermines [their] mission.”
An April 23, 2013, letter from 126 House members urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to review the Pentagon’s plan to furlough nearly every civil employee for 14 days, systematically fire temporary and term employees, and freeze new employee hiring.
The EEOC has notified employees that the budget shortfall arising from sequestration will be made up by 8.5 days of unpaid furloughs.
AFGE National Council of EEOC Locals has gone on the offensive to show bosses at the agency where money can be saved to reduce the number of required furlough days.
“We cannot sit by and allow wasteful practices while EEOC employees are sent home without pay and the public loses services,” said Gabrielle Martin, the local’s president. “The Be On the Lookout section will systemize the streams of e-mails the union receives from frustrated employees letting us know about activities they see in their offices that should not be occurring in the face of furloughs. For instance, the union learned that supervisors are traveling for meetings in EEOC’s Cleveland office in May instead of using video teleconference.”
The IRS has told employees to be prepared for the agency to shut down for at least five Fridays between May and August.
“Rather than staggering the furlough days so that someone at the IRS is always there to assist taxpayers every working day, the president has once again decided to inflict the maximum amount of pain on Americans via the modest sequester cuts he came up with last year,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas.
The National Treasury Employees Union noted that according to a February 2013 survey of 2,258 federal employees:
79 percent say their agencies are not replacing workers who leave.
68 percent say their agencies lack the resources to do their jobs properly.
67 percent say there is a hiring freeze at their agency.
48 percent say critical work is not getting done.
The DOL has issued guidance on scheduling furloughs in the department, noting that furlough times must be taken in increments no less than four hours. At least half the required furlough hours at DOL must be taken by July 13, 2013. All furlough hours must be taken by Sept. 21, 2013. Absent a waiver, the first furlough date at the department was April 15, 2013.
The AFGE announced April 25, 2013, that it had persuaded Congress to authorize the DOJ to use funds from other accounts to avoid furloughs through the end of fiscal 2013. “AFGE members continue to speak out on sequestration and furloughs, and we won’t stop fighting until all furloughs have been stopped,” the union said in a press release.
Members of Congress blamed President Obama for the sequestration furloughs, and White House press secretary Jay Carney placed the blame back on Congress. “A worthwhile endeavor would be a decision to eliminate the sequester entirely,” he remarked.
Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content, for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMlegaleditor.