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GAO says it wouldn’t need furloughs to meet sequester targets

Congress’s auditing agency told employees last week that it probably won’t have to resort to furloughs if the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration take effect on March 1.

Government Accountability Office Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro told the agency’s workers in a Feb. 15 memo that unpaid leave probably won’t be necessary to meet the reduction targets.

“We project that we would no longer require furloughs at GAO to absorb the potential reduction associated with sequestration,” Dodaro said.

Dodaro’s assessment is a rare bit of positive news at a time when many other agencies have warned their employees that unpaid leave will be all but certain if the sequester happens.

The Senate appropriations committee has posted a list of agency memos relating to the impacts. So far, most of the agencies have said furloughs are certain or probable, although a few have remained silent on the issue while describing cuts that imply fewer employees would be on the job.

The GAO assessment assumes that the sequester would require cuts of 5.3 percent for all non-defense programs, matching the latest estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

Dodaro offered a few caveats in his memo, noting that the White House budget office hasn’t announced an official percentage for calculating the cuts and that Congress could alter the GAO’s funding level for fiscal year 2013, changing the agency’s assumptions.

“Only when all of those elements are clear will we be able to finalize our plans for our final operating budget for next year,” the memo said.

Despite the improbability of furloughs, Dodaro said the automatic reductions would require “significant cutbacks” in areas including hiring, retention programs, travel and information technology.

The memo also said the GAO workforce size would drop to its lowest level since the 1930s without the addition of new hires, falling below 2,900 FTEs.

The agency’s funding level, which stood at $511 million during the 2012 fiscal year, has dipped by about 8 percent during the past two budget cycles.

Dodero said “prudent planning” and “conservative year-to-date execution of funds” have helped the GAO minimize the impacts of a potential sequester.

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