The U.S. Park Police began furloughing employees on Sunday, just days after the agency increased its presence at national landmarks in response to the Boston Marathon bombing.
Federal employers have to provide 30 days notice before placing workers on unpaid leave under the sequester, but Sunday marked the end of that grace period for some agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration and the White House budget office.
The Park Police sequester plan requires employees to take eight hours of unpaid leave every other week as the agency absorbs its share of the government-wide spending cuts that took effect last month.
National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis promised the agency will “continue to meet its public safety and security obligations,” but union leaders say response times could increase, especially for non-emergency calls.
“We’ll have one person doing the job of two or three people,” said Ian Glick, president of the U.S. Park Police Fraternal Order of Police.
Park police last week increased their high-visibility “surge patrols” at national icons such as the Lincoln Memorial after the deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Surge patrols involve SWAT members and other officers randomly sweeping popular park areas to deter potential attacks and to make the law-enforcement presence known.
Glick, who plans to serve his first furlough hours on Tuesday, said surge patrols in the future might take place with less personnel. He also said the agency may not have the funds to make work mandatory — all hands on deck — during times of crisis.
The Park Police employes about 760 civil servants in D.C., New York and San Francisco, handling about 100,000 cases each year with a budget of about $101 million — 98 percent of which goes toward personnel costs, according to Glick.
Jarvis said the agency would time its furloughs “in such a manner that the NPS will make no compromise in our public safety responsibilities.”
“The bombing in Boston reminds us that we must remain vigilant at our national icons and with the many public events we host on the National Mall each year,” Jarvis added.
Glick said the Park Service made overtime funds available for special park events despite the sequester cuts, which required the agency to trim $110 million from its budget. He questioned the logic of ramping up for high-profile events while reducing overall hours.
“Why are we paying a cable bill if we can’t afford the rent?” Glick asked.
The union leader said the Park Service could have lobbied Congress more to prevent Park Police furloughs. No other division of the Park Service plans to furlough employees.
The sequester is supposed to cut funding indiscriminately across the board. But Congress with its last stopgap budget shuffled around funding to help prevent furloughs for some departments that asked for more support, including Agriculture, Defense, and Homeland Security.
Making noise on the Hill yielded results for some agencies this year, but it’s not guaranteed to help. For example, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack won additional funding to prevent meat-inspector furloughs, but Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) failed in his effort to exempt small air-traffic control towers from the effects of the sequester, according to a Washington Post report on how some agencies beat the sequester.
Glick said he is scheduled to meet this week with Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and staffers from the House subcommittee that oversees the Parks Service. “We are still pursuing attention on the Hill, and hopefully they can persuade the Parks Service to ask for the authority to repurpose money.”
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