The cuts may not last for long if Congress reaches a spending agreement by the next fiscal deadline on March 27, when the stopgap budget funding government operations runs out. But what many civil servants and political appointees thought was unimaginable now seems inevitable.
“The imminence of it is what’s scaring me,” Louise Leonard Campbell, an economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said Thursday as she left the meeting. “I’m a single mom. My son has health issues. This is just snowballing.”
As they listened to Bastani on the stage of the auditorium of the Frances Perkins Building, employees were conscious of the irony that they are facing some of the same labor conditions they work to improve for the rest of the nation’s workforce.
“We are just living from one paycheck to another, and this could be really bad for us,” said Jorge Figueroa of Silver Spring, who works in quality control for the unemployment insurance division. He has four children, two in college. “I am telling you, this is going to be very stressful.”
If he is furloughed, he said, he will apply for short-term benefits from his own office.
The Pentagon warned 800,000 civilian employees worldwide this week to prepare for unpaid leave one day a week for 22 weeks starting in late April. Customs and Border Protection employees face 14 days; Bureau of Prisons workers 12 days; U.S. marshals 13 days; and the FBI, including agents and intelligence analysts, up to 14 days. Salary-heavy agencies that cannot delay projects or grants are most likely to furlough.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood painted a nightmarish picture of air travel if the FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees are furloughed. He emphasized the potential for flight delays, cancellations and angry travelers.
Aviation is one of the critical government functions the Obama administration and unions have warned will be disrupted if so many employees are out of work over a prolonged period.
Labor leaders are continuing to warn members of Congress that furloughs will hit not only workers but also vital public services. They have demanded that contractors be spared before federal workers.
“Like everybody else, we’ve been lobbying everybody who will listen to come to some sort of resolution,” said David Borer, general counsel for the AFGE, the largest federal union, with 650,000 members across 78 agencies. “Failing that, they’re going to have to negotiate with us.”
On Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats are casting blame on each other for allowing the cuts to happen as the partisan conflict over taxes and spending continues.