Days of sequester: The week-one round-up

 

Roughly one week has passed since deep spending cuts took effect across virtually all areas of government, and the first impacts of budget slashing are starting to show.

For one thing, the Obama administration canceled all tours of the White House, effective March 9. Republicans called the move a public-relations ploy aimed at drawing attention to the reductions, but the White House said the Secret Service couldn’t fulfill its core mission while hosting visitors under the so-called sequester.

Setting aside that issue, a number of agencies have either issued furlough notices or warned employees that unpaid leave might be necessary to meet their cost-saving targets.

Customs and Border Protection on Thursday sent notices to all of its employees, telling them the cuts would require up to 14 days worth of furloughs through September. The agency also said it plans to reduce overtime, implement a hiring freeze and impose other reductions.

Some of the first noticeable effects of the sequester appear to be showing up in government functions handled by Customs and Border Protection, with agency officials saying cutbacks in overtime have led to longer waits at some international airports and slower cargo inspections at seaport docks.

The White House budget office also sent out notices this week, saying it would furlough employees for 10 days between April 21 and early September.

Last week, the Justice Department sent notices of plans to furlough its workers for up to 14 days through the end of the fiscal year, and the National Labor Relations Board formally notified its employees of plans to force 22 days of unpaid leave

Those communications went out before the sequester took effect, meaning the furloughs for those agencies could begin in late March — unpaid leave requires 30 days notice.

The Defense Department has said for weeks that it plans to furlough all of its civilian workers for 22 days, starting in April and lasting through the end of the fiscal year. Exemptions will apply to a few categories of employees, including foreign nationals.

In addition, the IRS told employees in a memo that it expects to impose between five and seven days of unpaid leave beginning sometime after the tax-filing season ends. The agencywide memo did not count as an official furlough notice, so the 30-day-notice clock has not started ticking for that group.

The Environmental Protection Agency sent out a similar warning, telling employees it planned to impose up to 13 days of unpaid leave.

Likewise, the Federal Aviation Administration has told workers they could face 11 furlough days, and its parent agency, the Transportation Department, warned that its employees might be furloughed about one day per week starting in April and lasting until the end of the fiscal year.

Finally, the State Department gave its employees a big maybe, telling them the agency doesn’t expect furloughs — at least not yet.

The House on Wednesday passed a bill to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. That measure is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because it would avoid a partial government shutdown after the current temporary budget expires on March 27.

The legislation would also lock in the sequester while allowing the Obama administration greater flexibility in how it implements some of the reductions. Additionally, it would freeze federal salary rates through September, negating an order from the president to raise the rates by 0.5 percent.

One more thing: The bill would require the Postal Service to continue Saturday delivery through September. The postmaster general last month announced plans to cut back to five days of mail delivery in an effort to save $2 billion a year — a move that was unrelated to the sequester.

Final passage of the legislation now depends on what the Senate and White House decide to do. Neither the president nor Senate Democrats have indicated they will try to kill the measure.

Did we miss anything? Share your stories about how the cuts are affecting you — whether at work, at home or otherwise — on the Washington Post’s sequester forum.

 

For more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, subscribe to his Facebook page or e-mail hicksja@washpost.com.

E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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