HUD officials, others follow President Obama in giving up portion of salaries

President Obama becomes the most prominent member of his administration to show solidarity with federal workers who are losing pay under sequestration by deciding to give back some of his salary.

The president’s decision to donate 5 percent of his salary this year, first reported by the New York Times, will mean that he will return $20,000 of his $400,000 annual salary over the next year, a White House official said. This first payment will be this month.

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he would cut his $199,700 annual pay voluntarily as a gesture to the Pentagon employees who will be furloughed in the coming months because of automatic budget cuts that kicked in March 1.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) announced Wednesday that he was returning a portion of his salary. More than half of Begich’s staff will lose pay this year because of furloughs related to the sequester, his office announced.

And as many as nine senior officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development have decided to give up a portion of their salaries, too, according to a union leader who said he was told of the plan by HUD officials.

A HUD official confirmed the decision privately but would not speak publicly. But Eddie Eitches, president of American Federal of Government Employees Local 476, said he has discussed with the officials the possibility that they might donate the money to a union fund to help furloughed employees who need extra resources.

All of the officials who have announced plans to donate their salaries are among 1,200  political appointees who were confirmed by the Senate.

Their positions are exempt from sequestration, the $85 million in automatic spending cuts that began coursing through the government March 1. But their employees — 9,000 at HUD and about 750,000 at the Defense Department — will all be furloughed starting this spring. HUD will shut is operations on seven separate days, and defense civilians will be forced to take 14 unpaid days.

On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman George Little said the new Pentagon chief has agreed to “subject his pay to furlough levels, even though he’s not required to.” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced in February, before the sequester kicked in, that he would also return a portion of his salary to the federal government as a gesture of solidarity.

As Cabinet secretaries, Hagel and Donovan are paid $199,700.

The White House official who confirmed Obama’s decision said the 5 percent figure is an estimate of the reduction in non-military spending caused by the sequester.

Obama warned of dire consequences for the economy in general and government operations in particular ahead of the sequester, which took effect last month.

Administration officials have said that in agencies that report directly to the White House, 485 members of the Office of Management and Budget have received furlough notices so far.

Obama will write a check to the U.S. Treasury each month to return the 5 percent of his pay, the official said.

In Congress, Begich follows Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who announced recently that she would donate a day’s pay for each day federal employees are furloughed.

The sequester does not affect lawmakers’ salaries because their pay does not come from discretionary spending.

Norton will donate her pay to federal employees through the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund, which provides no-interest loans and grants to federal employees experiencing financial hardships.

Norton said she will match the highest number of furlough days by any federal agency.

Obama wrote a check to the U.S. Treasury this month to cover the March reimbursement, the official said.

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

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Lisa Rein · April 3, 2013