The Federal Emergency Management Agency is considering laying off or furloughing hundreds of employes because a House subcommittee blocked the agency's effort to pump more money into payroll costs.
The House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees FEMA, headed by Rep. Edward P. Boland (D-Mass.), recently rejected its request to transfer $5.5 million from emergency planning programs to employe salaries. The subcommittee contends that top FEMA officials created the shortfall by repeatedly violating federal hiring rules and deliberately overspending their budget for staff salaries.
Unless the panel's decision is reversed by the House or Senate, FEMA will have to find a way to cut its payroll costs by $5.5 million before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. How much of the 2,600-member staff would be affected depends on how late in the year such action is taken.
Spokesman Robert Mahaffey said FEMA would prefer that Congress approve the reprogramming request. But he confirmed that one of the agency's options "is to think about a rif [reduction in force] or a furlough."
Mahaffey stressed that "no decisions have been made" and that layoffs or furloughs, such as forcing employes to stay out a certain number of days each week without pay, would be "a last resort."
About half the shortfall, he said, is for civil service pay raises approved by Congress that were not in the agency's current budget. But he said the remaining gap is for unscheduled salary increases for particular employes. The agency has acknowledged that it has too many employes in the GS-11 to GS-15 range, Mahaffey said.
Reprogramming requests generally are approved routinely, unless Congress wants to block a program or force a change in an agency's policies.
The Boland subcommittee is upset with top FEMA officials for not notifying Congress last year that they were shifting program funds to pay for the salaries of about 100 management employes, according to House sources. They said the panel believes that agency officials have continued to commit funds for salaries that they knew were not in the budget.
An investigative report by the subcommittee found that FEMA engaged in "a pattern and practice of hiring consultants and experts . . . in a manner that implied a willful disregard for the competitive hiring process."
The report said that some vacancies were not widely advertised, that a number of those hired were requested by name and that some were alleged to be friends and former military associates of senior FEMA officials.
Mahaffey said agency officials mistakenly thought Congress had been informed about the shifting of funds last year. He said "some programs will have to be scaled back" if the agency is allowed to spend more on current salaries.