After 15 weeks of inconclusive negotiations over the federal budget, including late-night talks yesterday, Congress and the president have one day left to avert a government shutdown and stall or stop the largest furlough of government employees in recent history.
As budget negotiators met in the House speaker's private dining room yesterday, federal workers nationwide waited anxiously for news that will affect their paychecks, their schedules and, as many have said, their morale.
Late Friday afternoon, after most federal employees left work, Office of Management and Budget Director Richard G. Darman told departments and agencies that all workers should show up for work Monday. If no budget agreement is reached and no stopgap funding measure approved by Congress, which plans to meet today in a rare Sunday session, employees will be sent home in the first three hours of the day.
While the 11th-hour budget-making process may pass as routine politics in Washington, among many federal workers, especially those without a financial cushion, the stalemate has further eroded the trust between employees and the nation's decision-makers, employees have said.
"Throughout this whole business, the administration has been pointing fingers at Congress, and Congress has been pointing fingers at the administration and afterwards everyone's going to claim a victory," said David Carney, a federal meat inspector in Salem, Ohio. "We have a lot of people upset, others are speculating about an 11th-hour deal and others are extremely scared."
About 1.1 million federal employees received notice last month they may be furloughed if Congress and the administration do not agree to reduce the deficit by Monday, the start of fiscal year 1991, and automatic spending cuts of 32.5 percent in civilian programs and personnel take effect as called for in the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction law.
In addition to the furlough threat, employees also face the annual possibility that no budget agreement will be worked out and the government will run out of money. Under this scenario, which would be postponed if Congress passes a stopgap funding measure today, the government would shut down and all "non-essential" employees would be sent home.
The last time the government shut down for lack of funds was on Oct. 17, 1986, and it lasted only several hours. The last time anyone studied the cost of a shutdown was shortly after a 1981 budget impasse. At that time, the House subcommittee on Civil Service estimated it cost the government $5.5 million in administrative costs to close the doors and turn out the lights and $9 million in wages paid to workers for work they did not do.
"It's very expensive theater," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), who chaired the subcommittee then.
Federal employee unions have held protests across the country in the last week to decry the pay cuts that would result from furloughs and sunk employee morale.
The American Federation of Government Employees will be in court Monday seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the furlough of 60,000 Social Security Administration employees, according to the union. More than a thousand administrative law judges at several agencies have appealed their furloughs.
Social Security, federal retirement and disability benefits, veterans compensation and pensions, state unemployment benefits and many low-income entitlement programs are exempt from the automatic spending cuts. But the employees who administer them are not. The possibility that checks will be delayed has spread the concern about the furloughs beyond the immediate employees affected.
Joe Orsini worked as a civilian employee in the Defense Department for 53 years, until Sept. 3, when he retired at age 73. This week, having read the news about service slowdowns, he worried that if there were fewer workers on the job, his pension check might get delayed and his credit record would suffer when he could not meet his payments.
"If they start furloughing people," said Orsini, the employees responsible for his check will say, " 'Hey Mr. Orsini, don't blame us.' "
Budget and personnel managers in each federal agency and department have spent countless hours over the last month working out employee furlough plans, some of which were changed as late as Friday. The following is a summary of the furloughs and anticipated effect on some government services as outlined by officials in selected agencies:
AGRICULTURE Most agencies would furlough employees two to four days during first two weeks. The Food Safety and Inspection Service, responsible for inspecting meat and fowl at the nation's slaughterhouses and packing plants, would furlough its 9,000 employees, including 7,500 inspectors, for four days.
About 2,000 county offices administering the programs would shut down Mondays and Fridays as would the Farmers Home Administration, the main agency charged with making crop loans to needy farmers.
The number of furlough days would vary from agency to agency during the first two weeks. The National Weather Service last week reprogrammed funds to avert immediate cutbacks that would have shut down commercial night flights, which rely on the service's weather reports.
At the Census Bureau, tabulation of 1990 census data also would be unaffected by the first round of furloughs, as would the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Military personnel have been exempted from furloughs. Most civilian employees also would likely escape furlough because the Pentagon budget cut can be taken from non-personnel areas.
Travel, transportation, rents and utilities would be restricted in the operations and maintenance accounts. Contractual obligations would be deferred until the final amount of any sequester is determined.
The 1,200 employees in the inspector general's office, civil rights office and Indian education office would be furloughed one day the first week. The immediate impact on the public appears limited, although fewer employees would be around to answer the inspector general's hotline and take civil rights complaints from parents and students. The funding of Indian education programs this school year would not be affected.
The Energy Department will not furlough any of its 16,000 employees because it is able to use "unobligated balances" to alleviate the impact of the sequester.
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Well over half of the department's 118,000 employees would be on furlough for part of the first day. At the Social Security Administration -- with 63,000 workers in Baltimore, Washington and in 1,300 Social Security offices throughout the country -- employees would be furloughed for two hours daily from Monday through Thursday, which means they would work from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day. This would enable offices and phone lines to operate at least part of the day. All employees would be furloughed Oct. 5, and offices and functions would be shut down.
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits checks are expected to go out on time.
Employees would work a six-hour day on Oct. 9, but only five hours each on Oct. 10-11, and would be furloughed altogether on Oct. 12.
No furloughs are expected the first two weeks in the Food and Drug Administration, Indian Health Service, Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health, Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, and parts of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration and office of the assistant secretary for health.
At the Health Care Financing Administration, which handles Medicare and Medicaid, employees would be furloughed Oct. 9.
At the Family Support Administration, furlough days would fall on Oct. 5 and 12. Human Development Services would face two days of furloughs.
HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
The headquarters and 10 regional offices would close part of the afternoon Oct. 4 and all day Oct. 5. Officials said sending home the department's 13,040 employees for that period would save $2 million a day in payroll expenses and $12,000 to $25,000 a day in costs for systems and utilities.
Headquarters personnel would be furloughed 12 hours during the first two weeks. Small parks, including the Washington Monument, Statue of Liberty and USS Arizona, would be closed two days a week.
At the larger national parks, including Yosemite, service would be diminished, possibly including the collection of entrance fees. No interpreter services would be available.
Employees of U.S. Attorney's offices would be furloughed for three out of the first 15 days. Most would be off Oct. 11, 12 and 15. Prosecutors who are supposed to appear at hearings, arraignments and trials would ask for continuances. Other department employees in Washington would be furloughed for two days on a staggered basis.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which transports prisoners, also would be shut down those three days. No overtime would be allowed, which would mean prisoners usually transported to court by marshals would not get to courthouses before 11 a.m.
Some federal judges, who are not being furloughed, "have informally rattled the saber," threatening contempt-of-court citations as a way to force normal operations, a department official said.
Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration agents would be out two furlough days; Immigration and Naturalization Service employees would be furloughed one day. Bureau of Prisons employees would be furloughed three days, something "we're very much concerned about," given prison overcrowding, the official said. Support staff, including accountants, would have to fill in as guards and prison activities would be reduced.
Most employees would be furloughed two days in the second week. At the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 1,200 inspectors would be furloughed two days during the second week. The agency plans to inspect only business sites about which they have received complaints.
Up to $5 million in carry-over funds would be spent to prevent furloughs for an unspecified period of the new fiscal year. The reprogramming of the funds, originally scheduled "for later disbursement on telecommunications and other high-priority items," follows procedures approved by the Office of Management and Budget, the department said.
TRANSPORTATION At the Federal Aviation Administration, the air traffic control system would be reduced by about 25 percent through furloughs of air traffic controllers 2 1/2 days the first two weeks. President Bush has indicated he may exempt controllers. In a sequester, there would be three days of chaos in the air traffic system, followed by the relative calm of a new pared-down nationwide schedule that would go into effect at 3 a.m. Thursday. That schedule would involve a cut of about 3,000 of the 18,000 daily airline flights.
In the first three days, traffic would be controlled by the FAA's central flow control facility in Washington, which now goes into action whenever airports are affected by bad weather, runway closures and other similar constraints.
Flow control sets a limit on the number of flights per hour at any airport, and a computer assigns delays at airports throughout the country on an airplane-by-airplane basis for those flights headed for the constricted airport.
At the Coast Guard, personnel are considered military and therefore exempt from furlough, which leaves the operational budget to absorb any funding cut. As a result, Coast Guard ships and planes would be idled except for emergency search-and-rescue missions. All routine patrols, including drug patrols, would be canceled.
Except for emergencies, all hiring, travel, purchases, training and promotion would be suspended in order to reduce spending.
Some employees would be furloughed three days; others would escape a sequester.
The Internal Revenue Service is planning a nationwide shutdown of all its offices for three days in the first two weeks. "We feel it would cause less disruption for taxpayers and employees" to close the entire operation, IRS spokeswoman Ellen Murphy said.
Employees at "main" Treasury face 10 hours of unpaid leave, one full day, plus two hours on a second day, which they would be asked to take the second week. Not affected would be the employees of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, who print the nation's money at a plant on 14th St.
Members of the Secret Service who guard the president also would be exempted.
VETERANS AFFAIRS Most workers at the 172 hospitals operated by the department, the country's largest hospital system, would escape the immediate impact of the sequestration. But medical researchers and administrators in the VA's Vermont Street headquarters may face two days without pay. Workers in the VA's large benefits system, which sends checks to thousands of injured and poor veterans, would face three days of unpaid leave.
Although the department anticipated it would have to slash burial allowances from $300 to $175.20 and headstone payments from $81 to $47.30 under a full 31.9 percent sequestration, the VA has decided it will not be able to trim those expenses on a short-term basis. The reason: It takes the agency 60 work days to process a death claim, even in the best of times.
Workers in the VA's cemetery system, however, would face three-day furloughs and the department's inspector general staff would face 3 1/2 days off.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
Employees would be furloughed an average of three days, Oct. 10-12. Contract grants have been stopped and there is a prohibition on travel and training. All new state grants for air pollution monitoring, water quality assessment and construction of waste water treatment plants would be delayed. Work at the Superfund cleanup sites could also be slowed, as would registration of new and existing pesticides and other chemicals.
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
Employees would be furloughed one day during first two weeks. Otherwise, little impact is expected during the first two weeks, and the space agency will move forward with plans to launch the European-built Ulysses probe to study the sun, scheduled to lift off aboard the shuttle Discovery Oct. 6.
FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION
Four employees would be off every 10 days, although no one will be out Monday and Tuesday. There would be a slowdown in what can be processed and analyzed, and some offices may be staffed by only one person. "But it's particularly bad for us," said spokesman Fred Eiland, because the final campaign financial reports for the Nov. 6 congressional elections are due Oct. 15 and Oct. 25. "How we are able to handle them and how much information we will put out, I don't know. We will do our best," he said.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
Officials refused to say whether anyone would be furloughed. "Like all federal agencies, we are affected by it," CIA spokesman Peter Earnest said. "We can't discuss specifics, but we are making necessary plans covering personnel, programs, projects and activities that will be subject to the sequester."
A congressional intelligence committee official said the CIA might have "enough slack" in its budget to avoid any immediate personnel cuts.
VOICE OF AMERICA
Employees would be furloughed three days during first two weeks, with no expected interruption in broadcasts.
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Its 2,300 staffers would be furloughed two days a week. The commission also would freeze hiring, promotions and pay increases and eliminate overtime, office moves and printing, a severe cut for an agency responsible for regulating all public corporations.
Although the system is exempt, Chairman Alan Greenspan has said that the Fed will comply with the "spirit" of any spending reductions. But because the bank is on a calendar year, its services would not be eligible for a cut until Jan. 1.
OTHER BANKING AGENCIES Most agencies that supervise banking are exempt from cuts, either because their functions are deemed essential or because their activities are supported by fees they charge, rather than direct appropriations. This includes the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Resolution Trust Corp.
OFFICE OF THE U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE
With 65 percent of its budget going to personnel, the 135-person office would furlough everyone each Friday. Many staff members have said they plan to show up for work anyway. The cuts come as the office plans for its role as head of the administration's negotiating team at the Uruguay Round of global free trade talks the first week in December.
Staff writers William Booth, Kenneth J. Cooper, Guy Gugliotta, Al Kamen, Sharon LaFraniere, George Lardner Jr., Thomas W. Lippman, Bill McAllister, Molly Moore, Don Phillips, Kathy Sawyer, Maralee Schwartz, Ann Swardson and Frank Swoboda contributed to this report.