FBI officials are hinting that the agency might furlough employees for more than 10 weekdays and shut down its offices on those dates if the government-wide spending cuts known as the sequester continue through the next fiscal year.

Such a plan would affect FBI personnel more than the agency’s current sequester measures, which do not involve unpaid leave. It would also impact investigations and intelligence gathering, as only essential employees would remain on the job during furlough days.

The first dates for unpaid leave would likely occur around Thanksgiving and Christmas, taking place on days that workers typically use vacation time, according to an official who spoke anonymously to discuss plans that are still fluid.

The FBI avoided unpaid leave during the current fiscal year in part with one-time reductions that largely involved contract reductions. But the agency can’t repeat those moves while reaching its $700 million cost-cutting target for the next cycle.

“You can’t get there in the same way,” the FBI official said.

The FBI’s sequester reductions for fiscal 2013 included cutbacks in hiring, training and equipment purchases. Although furloughs during the next cycle would affect investigations and intelligence gathering, they would not prevent the agency from responding to serious incidents such as a terrorist event, the official said.

Last week, newly placed FBI director James Comey expressed concern that furloughing employees under a continued sequester would impact agency operations. “I can’t imagine that if we have charged people with protecting their fellow citizens that it makes sense to send them home and tell them you can’t work for two weeks without pay,” he said at a news conference.

Congress could act to stop the government-wide reductions, but lawmakers would have to come up with a plan to trim the deficit by an equal amount through taxes, alternative spending cuts, or both.

Many of the dire sequester predictions from federal agencies have failed to materialize during the current fiscal year, although the $85 billion worth of budget cuts caused real reductions in many programs that people depend on.

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