White House officials said yesterday that the $11.7 billion spending cut expected March 1 under the new balanced-budget law would probably result in some furloughs for federal workers, although the full impact had not yet been determined.
At the same time, officials said it was almost certain that the first round of spending cuts would bring "few if any" reductions in force (rifs), or layoffs, among federal employes, as agencies attempt to save money in the last seven months of this 1986 fiscal year.
The impact on federal workers of the $11.7 billion in spending cuts produced disagreement yesterday at a Cabinet meeting. Office of Management and Budget Director James C. Miller III said reductions in force would not be necessary in the first round of cuts, but White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan told the Cabinet not to rule them out.
Under the new Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law procedure, officials said, each domestic agency is to determine in the next few weeks how to absorb the 4.3 percent reduction. Officials said the most likely options in the personnel area are first, not to replace workers who have left, and second, furloughs.
In some cases, federal workers may find themselves working four days a week, one official said. Some workers may be able to use accumulated leave time; others may be furloughed without pay for a period of days before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
President Reagan is scheduled to issue an order Feb. 1 implementing the spending cuts, and more details of how they are to be carried out will be known by then, officials said.
The spending cut due March 1 is relatively small, however, compared with what will occur if Reagan and Congress fail to reach agreement on the deficit this year and another round of across-the-board cuts is required later this year. That could result in far deeper cuts in the federal work force.
The report issued this week by the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget noted that rates of pay for civilian federal employes, or scheduled pay raises, cannot be reduced by the mandated across-the-board cuts. Basic pay rates for the uniformed services are also protected under the law. But the report added that "budgetary resources" available for federal pay can be affected as part of the reduction in administrative expenses in a particular agency.
The report also noted that program managers "are urged not to resort to personnel furloughs" until other methods of reducing spending, such as restricting travel and printing, are tried.
At a Cabinet meeting yesterday, Miller explained the new estimates showing that the deficit has soared this year to $220 billion, triggering the first round of spending cuts.
Officials said Miller repeated in the Cabinet session what he had said the day before: that reductions in force would not be necessary.
Miller had said there might be hiring freezes in some agencies but pledged that the administration would implement the cuts with a minimum of disruption.
Sources said that after Miller spoke at the White House, Regan said he did not want the Cabinet members to think that reductions in force are completely off limits. The chief of staff reportedly said that they should be used if necessary to meet the spending targets.
Attorney General Edwin Meese III then said that reductions in force should be avoided because they can cost more than they save, including the cost of severance pay. Meese suggested that agencies use attrition to meet the spending cuts, according to officials who were present.