With the Defense Department set to lay out a final furlough policy today, the Merit Systems Protection Board has rejected a union’s request for a heads-up on how it could decide appeals from employees who challenge the decision to force them to take unpaid time off.
“Under federal law, the Board is prohibited from issuing advisory opinions,” the agency’s clerk, William Spencer, said in a letter yesterday to Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers that cites the relevant provision of federal law. This afternoon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to officially tell DoD employees that most will be furloughed for up to 11 days by the end of September because of sequester-related budget cuts.
On May 1, Junemann had asked the board to issue “a pre-emptive statement of opinion” on whether furloughed DoD workers could win appeals. Such a step would save the board “from deciding thousands of cases that would likely come,” Junemann said in the letter MSPB chairman Susan Grundmann.
The board’s decision is “disappointing,” Matt Biggs, IFPTE’s legislative and policy director, in a phone interview today. By issuing the pre-emptive ruling, he said, board members “would have saved themselves a lot of time and effort and work because there are going to be thousands of cases going through.”
With the Defense Department expected to announce a final furlough policy as early as this week, a union has asked the Merit Systems Protection Board for a heads-up on how it would rule on behalf of DoD employees who appeal decisions to make them take unpaid time off.
Issuing “a pre-emptive statement of opinion” on whether those employees could win appeals would save the board “from deciding thousands of cases that would likely come,” Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said in last week’s letter to MSPB chairman Susan Grundmann. A board spokesman declined comment Friday, but said a response will be coming soon.
As of today, DoD officially plans to furlough most of its almost 800,000-strong civilian workforce for up to 14 days by the end of September. But in an April 26 letter to members of Congress, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel indicated that the Pentagon is still searching for ways to trim or eliminate the number of furlough days. In a sign that something’s brewing, the Navy on Friday postponed sending furlough notices that were supposed to go out today.
In seeking an advance ruling, IFPTE is also hoping to prod Hagel into taking furloughs off the table altogether or else relax the department’s current policy requiring military services and other components to stick to the 14-day benchmark even if their finances allow for a lesser amount of unpaid time off. While that goal is a long-shot, the letter is a reminder that the board–as Federal Times has previously reported–could be swamped with appeals if mass furloughs do take place.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the congressionally chartered non-profit that helps keep TV and radio programming like “Sesame Street,” “Downton Abbey” and “All Things Considered” on the air, has laid off a dozen employees and is requiring week-long furloughs for senior staff, the web site, Current.org, is reporting.
The organization is also eliminating three vacant positions; all told, the downsizing cuts its workforce by 11 percent. The reductions are largely due to the sequester, according to what a spokesman told the site. Like most federal agencies, the corporation is having to absorb about a 5 percent budget cut. Between that and the continuing resolution approved in March, its funding was cut $23 million to around $422 million. The layoffs are the first since 1997-98.
It’s now been more than a month-and-a-half since sequestration took effect and Federal Times remains committed to following the story as closely as we can.
We’re again looking for your help and want to hear from you about what the impact has been thus far. If you have something to share, please email Sean Reilly at firstname.lastname@example.org or Steve Losey at email@example.com.
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President Obama is getting lots of attention for his decision to return 5 percent of his $400,000 annual salary (or $20,000) to the Treasury in a show of solidarity with soon-to-be furloughed feds.
But the White House is not disclosing how many of the people–many of them political appointees–who work for the Executive Office of the President are themselves facing the pain of unpaid time off.
According to the Obama administration’s last budget request, the office includes more than 1,800 employees sprinkled around places like the Executive Residence at the White House, the Office of Management and Budget and the National Security Council. Although the administration has said that some 480 OMB staffers will have to take 10 furlough days, it hasn’t revealed whether or not other parts of the EOP workforce are getting similar treatment.
Earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney fended off prolonged questioning on the subject at his daily “gaggle” with reporters. What follows is a transcript–pasted from the White House web site–of the give-and-take. (For the record, presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed staffers are legally exempt from furloughs, as are Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.)
“Q: And to follow up, [the] sequestration impact in the Executive Office of the President — can you give us some data?
MR. CARNEY: Let me see what I have for you here. As you know, the White House is one of 11 components of the Executive Office of the President, which is, indeed, as we have said, subject to the sequester. Within the Executive Office of the President, several offices have sent furlough notices to their staff, including to 480 employees of the Office of Management and Budget. In addition, EOP leadership has managed our personnel costs in a variety of ways, including hiring slowdowns and delayed backfilling of open positions. And as the impact of the sequester progresses, furlough and pay cuts remain possibilities — or additional furloughs, as well as pay cuts, remain possibilities for additional White House employees. Additionally, in order to meet the effects of the sequester, many components of the EOP have significantly scaled back equipment purchases and supply purchases, curtailed staff travel, reduced the use of air cards. And they are reviewing contracts that they have on an ongoing basis to identify opportunities to reduce costs, improve efficiencies without undermining their core mission. It just means that all — everybody at the White House and the broader EOP is dealing with the consequences both — in many cases, in their own personal lives, but in how we work here at the White House, which is true across the federal government because of the impact of the sequester.
Q: Just to follow up, because you can be so specific about the OMB impact, and we assume that federal employees get a 30-day notice if they are going to get a furlough notice, and the fact that you’re not identifying anybody who is working directly in the White House for the President as being identified to that, is that –
MR. CARNEY: The OMB works for the President. It is part of the Executive Office of the President.
Q: Yes, but we’re talking about — I’m talking about the West Wing folks who work directly for the President. Those folks –
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just — I completely take issue with the idea that the OMB doesn’t –
Q: There are many hundreds of people who work for the President of the United States — you know what I’m asking you. So my question is, because you haven’t identified those people who have received any furlough notices, you’re saying that cost-effective shifting of dollars and holding down on dollars is for the time being going to prevent anybody from being furloughed? That’s what you’re saying?
MR. CARNEY: I think I just said that within the Executive Office of the President, a component of that, OMB, there have been 480 employees who have been notified of furloughs.
Q: Right, but you don’t work for OMB. So –
MR. CARNEY: No, but they work for the President, and so do I.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure –
Q: You know exactly what I’m asking.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t. I don’t.
Q: I’m asking — okay, the White House –
Q: Are those the only furlough notices or are there others?
MR. CARNEY: I have no other notices to announce to you. I can tell you that –
Q: Why not?
MR. CARNEY: As I just said, as the impact of the sequester progresses, furlough and pay cuts remain possibilities for additional White House employees. I think you would find at agency after agency, as they make these assessments and make these budget decisions on a rolling basis, they’re having to make decisions about furlough notices and other measures that they have to take, and that is as true here as it is in other federal agencies. Q Well, why can OMB give us a number of 480 and none of the other components –
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that that’s the number I have for EOP, and it’s 480 at OMB.
Q: So the other 10 components, there is no furlough notices at this point?
MR. CARNEY: Again, that’s what I have for you, Donovan. I don’t have any other furlough notices to announce to you.
Q: So there haven’t been any?
MR. CARNEY: That’s what I have, not beyond what I can tell you. That’s what I know.”
About halfway through this American Forces Press Service story today, Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall tosses out an observation likely to catch the attention of Defense Department civilian employees. Although furloughs will still take place even if a fiscal 2013 spending bill now in Congress wins approval, fewer furlough days could be needed, the story paraphrases Kendall as saying at a conference.
Currently, DoD plans to furlough most of its approximately 800,000 workers for 22 days between April 25 and the rest of the fiscal year as the result of the sequester-related spending cuts that began this month. But as Federal Times reported this week, the FY13 bill is likely to shift $10.4 billion into the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance account that covers most civilian salaries (and a lot of other things).
A Pentagon spokeswoman had no other details this afternoon, saying the legislation has to pass first.
One of the great unknowns of sequestration is how many hours of federal agency staff time have been consumed by drafting, discussing and implementing the steps needed to handle the across-the-board spending cuts.
And it’s not over yet.
Under an April 1 deadline stemming from the continuing resolution approved last fall, more than three dozen agencies are supposed to give Congress updated operating plans that reflect the impact of the reductions for fiscal 2013. Inconveniently, however, lawmakers are still tinkering with a final version of the FY13 budget, meaning that some agencies—the Defense Department in particular—may have to rewrite those plans.
“We’re going to have a real problem because you’re about to change the whole framework for us,” DoD Comptroller Robert Hale said yesterday at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. Because the baseline for the sequester cuts will change, Hale said, “we will need to go back and make sure we still have the right plans.”
Last fall’s CR expires March 27, meaning that lawmakers have to approve a replacement by next Wednesday or a trigger a partial government shutdown. The consensus that is that something will pass by then that will substantially rework the Pentagon’s budget to provide more flexibility.
Under a bill now grinding its way through the Senate, the Department of Homeland Security, NASA and a handful of other agencies could also see significant changes in the allocation of their FY13 budgets. Under questioning from Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, Hale conceded that DoD will probably not be able to make the April 1 deadline with “meaningful information.”
“We will respond to the law,” Rafael Borras, DHS undersecretary for management, said at the same hearing. “If there are any changes between now and April 1, we will adjust accordingly.”
The sequester is here, and many federal employees are upset, frustrated and worried about the impact of severe budget cuts on their jobs and agencies.
Some employees are leading efforts to help their agencies cut costs and potentially lessen the impact of anticipated sharp budget cuts. It may mean using cheaper printing paper, parking in a less expensive garage or conducting more meetings via the Internet.
What are you or your colleagues doing to save money? Federal Times wants to hear from you. Please contact Nicole Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 703-750.8145.
For anyone with a background in appropriations law and a little time on their hands, FedLine has obtained a copy of the legal opinion that the U.S. Postal Service is using to justify its decision to end Saturday mail delivery this August.
The gist: The long-standing congressional ban on curtailing six-day delivery doesn’t apply at present because the federal government is operating under a stopgap continuing resolution. And even if did apply, lawmakers don’t have to continue the ban when that resolution expires March 27, Postal Service lawyers write in the nine-page opinion.
The underlying reasoning is complicated enough that even Postmaster General Pat Donahoe had trouble explaining it at the Feb. 6 news conference announcing the planned delivery change. You can read the opinion for yourself here.
But while USPS attorneys say the agency is not flouting Congress’s will, the legal niceties may be lost on some lawmakers. “You said you’re satisfied that you have legal authority–I’m not,” Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., told Donahoe at a hearing last week of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee. “And I’m not sure the committee is,” Pryor added.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., also wasn’t satisfied. Despite “what’s in the law, your lawyer apparently is saying that you can cancel that sixth day,” he said. And while Donahoe pleaded with lawmakers to stay out of the way, Levin suggested that the agency might actually need additional congressional oversight of its contracts with Federal Express and UPS.
“Every contract in this Postal Service is competed,” Donahoe responded.
“That’s fine,” Levin said, “But it’s also the American way that there be some congressional oversight of your contracts.”
No doubt, many federal employees will remember Feb. 20 as a dark day. The Defense Department formally unveiled plans to furlough most of its almost 800,000 civilian workers if sequestration comes to pass. More agencies could soon follow suit.
But such sacrifices are old hat to state and local government employees who have been enduring stiff cutbacks since the economy tanked in 2008. In recent years, for example, dozens of states have furloughed employees, resorted to outright layoffs and/or required workers to pitch in more for benefits, according to a rundown by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
One of the largest, California, has been furloughing employees for a couple of days a month ever since 2010. Under a law passed last year (now being challenged in court), Arizona state workers are responsible for paying 53 percent of contributions to their pension plan, according to the conference. By contrast, Federal Employees Retirement System participants (with the exception of folks hired since the beginning of the year) pay less than 7 percent, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.
The underlying reason for the tougher stance is that state governments generally have to balance their budgets and can’t borrow money for operating expenses when they run short. As a result, state employees have faced “significant changes” in the wake of the “Great Recession,” Todd Haggerty, an NCSL policy analyst, told FedLine.
So if misery really does love company, well, feds have plenty.