Report on sequester impacts prompts criticism of dire predictions

Government-wide budget cuts last year caused only one layoff from the federal workforce, but they forced more than 770,000 employees to stay home without pay for up to a week and cut into assistance for the poor, according to a watchdog report.

An analysis by Congress’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said agencies minimized the effects of the so-called sequester by shifting funds to protect their highest priorities, in addition to pulling back on hiring, training and new investments.

On Thursday, Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma used the report, released in March, to criticize the Obama administration’s predictions about severe impacts from the $85.3 billion in cuts.


Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)  (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Coburn said in a statement that the findings are “devastating to the credibility of Washington politicians and administration officials who spent months – and millions of dollars – engaging in a coordinated multi-agency cabinet-level public relations campaign to scare the American people.”

The administration last year warned about broad impacts from the sequester, including a potential drop in economic activity that would lead to job losses and less hiring outside the government.

“There is no question that sequestration had a significant negative impact on the American people and our economy,” said Steve Posner, a spokesman for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

“GAO itself notes that many of the flexibilities used to mitigate the effects of sequestration in 2013 may not be available in future years, suggesting that the impacts would be even worse if sequestration is allowed to occur in future years,” Posner added.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who represents a district heavily populated by federal workers, said in a statement that the sequester was “endemic of how this Republican Congress treats our federal employees.”

“The uncertainty and confusion sequestration caused is likely to continue for years as we see the effects that this Tea Party-driven assault on our federal workforce has on long term recruitment and retention,” Moran said.

Coburn on Thursday issued a letter to OMB Director Sylvia Burwell asking for a “fact-based explanation” of the sequester’s impacts on the federal workforce and what guidance the office issued to federal agencies for how they should deal with the budget reductions.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to federalworker@washpost.com.

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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Josh Hicks · May 8, 2014