HUD to close agency during furlough days

March 27, 2013
(Photo courtesy of AFGE)
(Photo courtesy of AFGE)

As word of sequestration-induced furloughs courses through federal agencies, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is taking an unusual approach to the seven unpaid days it is requiring most full-time employees to take.

It’s planning to shut down the agency on those days.

The reason apparently has to do with unwanted paperwork. Top HUD officials assessed the logistical complications that would be involved for personnel managers in trying to organize days off for thousands of employees, not to mention their vacation and sick days.

They concluded that the recordkeeping would be burdensome. So they have opted to close down most agency operations on seven days between April and the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Don’t look for HUD to open on May 10, May 24, June 14, July 5, July 22, August 16 and August 30.

“We have considered providing employees with an opportunity to express their preferences with respect to the scheduling of furlough days,” Karen Newton Cole, HUD’s chief human capital officer, wrote in a recent memo to the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents HUD workers.

“Given the broad scope of sequestration this is not possible,” she wrote. “The Department has over 9,000 employees. Multiplying the number of employees by seven days would mean that there would be 63,000 scheduling decisions that would need to be made over a 6-month period.”

Newton Cole called the prospect “not administratively feasible” and said the “number of possible payroll errors is daunting.”

Other agencies apparently have not found the process as cumbersome and are letting employees choose which unpaid days to take, working out an arrangement with their supervisor.

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking the same approach during some of its up to 13 planned furlough days. For three, and possibly four, of the days, the agency is planning to add a day off to a holiday weekend around Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day, officials said this week.

The EPA will be closed on those days, with the exception of some operations. Employees — about 17,000 are scheduled to be furloughed — will take the rest of the days after working out a schedule with their supervisor.

In a memo to employees this week, Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe wrote that 20 percent of the $425 million the EPA must cut from its budget by  Sept. 30 must come from payroll accounts, forcing furloughs.

He said employees will receive 30-day furlough notices next week.

Lisa Rein covers the federal workforce and issues that concern the management of government.
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