The Washington Post

Obama administration prepares federal workers for possible furloughs

The Obama administration is warning federal workers they might be placed on temporary unpaid leave if the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration are implemented.

A draft memo, based on guidance to federal agencies from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), says the administration may “have to consider placing employees on temporary furlough, or taking other personnel actions, should sequestration occur.”

The draft memo also says that to deal with “the rigid nature of the cuts imposed by Congress,” administration officials also “are closely examining contracts, grants, and other forms of expenditures.”

The document acknowledges the actions “could mean making cuts to vital programs or curtailing spending on contracts. We will also take steps, wherever possible, to cut operational or administrative costs in areas such as travel, training, facilities, and supplies.”

OMB and Office of Personnel Management officials participated in a conference call Monday with federal union leaders, during which the guidance was discussed.

Although critical of Congress for not yet finding ways to avoid sequestration, William Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, praised OMB for “attempting to make sure employees are continuing to be communicated with as we get close to sequestration. That’s a good thing.”

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said she is “asking agencies to first examine government contracts and look to make cuts in those programs, as well as other cost-cutting measures that can be taken before considering furloughs.

“NTEU will continue to press to avoid sequestration and the drastic budget cuts which will result in serious harm to taxpayers who rely on the services provided by federal employees and agencies.”

The current guidance is similar in tone to information OMB provided to agencies in January. Then, Jeffrey D. Zients, Office of Management and Budget deputy director for management, told agencies to “identify the most appropriate means to reduce civilian workforce costs where necessary — this may include imposing hiring freezes, releasing temporary employees or not renewing term or contract hires, authorizing voluntary separation incentives and voluntary early retirements, or implementing administrative furloughs.”

federaldiary@washpost.com

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

 

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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