What’s the deal with the Elijah Cummings furlough announcement?

 

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) announced during a House committee hearing Tuesday that he had decided to furlough employees as a result of the automatic spending cuts that took effect March 1.

To the best of our knowledge, no other lawmakers have decided to place personal staff on unpaid leave to meet their reduction targets under the so-called sequester.

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

We wanted to know more about Cummings’s decision, but his staff has refused to discuss the matter. Spokeswoman Safiya Simmons said the Office of House Employment Counsel advised that sharing details about furloughs could violate House policy on personnel actions.

Simmons declined to explain which policy she was referring to, but the Office of House Employment Counsel said no rule exists that would prohibit Cummings or his staff from speaking about furloughs.

Furthermore, the sequester guidance from the Committee on House Administration doesn’t mention anything about members of Congress being required to withhold furlough information from the public.

As for any details about the unpaid leave in store for Cummings’s staff, we only know what the congressman said during Tuesday’s hearing.

“I know I’ve just told my employees to take two days of furlough,” Cummings said. “People say sequestration does not have an impact that’s real, that’s a real deal. Some of these people making 40 [thousand dollars], $45,000, they’re losing two days a month. That’s real. As a matter of fact, they’ve already started taking furloughed days.”

It is unclear from that statement how many furlough days Cummings will impose on his staff for the remainder of the fiscal year or how many employees from his office will be affected by the decision.

Lawmakers interviewed for previous Washington Post articles about the sequester’s impacts on the legislative branch have said they expect to absorb their portion of the automatic cuts without placing staff members on unpaid leave.

Those legislators said they have taken other steps to reduce costs, such as altering phone plans, eliminating non-essential travel, cancelling magazine and newspaper subscriptions, cutting back on mailers and reducing staff numbers through attrition.

Cummings ranked 19th among members of Congress in terms of highest percentage of total office allowance spent in 2011, according to a USA Today analysis of official statements of disbursement. The congressman’s office spent 96.6 percent of its roughly $1.4 million allocation that year, the report showed.

Democrats took the top 20 spots on that list, with each of their offices in those cases spending at least 96 percent of their allowances. Republicans held 17 of the bottom 20 positions, with none of those offices spending more than 75 percent of their allocated funds.

The sequester requires congressional offices to reduce their spending by 8.2 percent, which means any lawmakers using less than 91.8 percent of their office’s allowance would be would not have to adjust spending under the automatic budget cuts.

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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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