President Trump, watched by, from left, Vice President Pence, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, White House National Trade Council head Peter Navarro and senior adviser Jared Kushner, signs an executive order on Jan. 23 that places a hiring freeze on nonmilitary federal workers. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Trump administration might be best known for major defeats and repeated deceit, but that doesn’t stop it from being prepared — prepared to fire and furlough feds.

Two reports issued by the Office of Personnel Management are designed to help agencies prepare for employee layoffs, a.k.a reductions in force (RIFs) and compulsory unpaid leaves. Layoffs are likely if President Trump’s proposed $54 billion cut in the fiscal 2018 domestic discretionary budget, which begins in October, is approved. Of more immediate concern is the need for Congress to agree on stopgap funding before April 28 to avoid a partial government shutdown that would result in furloughs.

President Trump has introduced his budget plan, but that's just the beginning of the appropriations process. The Washington Post's White House economic policy reporter Damian Paletta explains what happens next. (Video: Jenny Starrs/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Guidance for Administrative Furloughs” provides questions and answers for agency personnel offices and employees. The “Workforce Reshaping Operations Handbook,” a more benign, albeit less colorful framing than top Trump aide Steve Bannon’s “deconstruction of the administrative state,” deals with agency reorganization.

This is not a happy topic, so let’s start with a sliver of hope — the reshaping handbook’s Chapter 1, Section C on “minimizing the need for reduction in force.” Here are some of the options offered, not in any order:

  • Detail employees to other agencies: “The employee on an interagency detail retains the same rights and benefits … because a detail does not change the employee’s official position of record. This option works well when another agency has a temporary need for the specific skills of the surplus employees.”
  • Freeze hiring and promotions: “The agency may freeze personnel actions to best fit its individual situation rather than automatically adopting a blanket freeze on all personnel actions. In a mid- or long-term implementation of its reshaping plan, the agency may adopt a freeze on a ratio or a percentage basis, such as filling one position for every two vacated positions.” Note: In one of Trump’s first acts as president, he imposed an across-the-board hiring freeze with some exceptions.
  • Retraining staff: “Retraining benefits include minimizing disruption to the work environment and building workforce morale, particularly when the agency uses retraining as an alternative to involuntary separations and demotions from downsizing.”
  • Voluntary change to lower grade: “In some situations, a voluntary change to lower grade allows an agency to staff a vacancy with a proven employee, while providing continued employment to a surplus employee without forcing RIF actions.”
  • Voluntary reduction of hours, including conversion to part-time: “A reduction in an employee’s scheduled work time will result in an immediate reduction in personnel costs, but may also result in a loss of organizational productivity …”
  • Furlough: The practice of placing workers in “a temporary nonduty, nonpay status,” or leave without pay, is familiar to those on staff during the partial government shutdown in 2013. “An agency may furlough an employee under RIF regulations only when the agency plans to recall the employee to duty within 1 year in the position the employee held when furloughed.”

This takes us to abbreviated questions and answers quoted from OPM’s “Guidance for Administrative Furloughs:”

Q. Does placement in furlough status cause a full-time employee to be converted to part-time or a part-time employee to be converted to a reduced part-time work schedule?

A. No. Placement in furlough status or any other kind of temporary nonpay, nonduty status does not affect the nature of an employee’s official work schedule as full-time or part-time. For a full-time employee who is furloughed during a 40-hour basic workweek, the employee continues to have a full-time 40-hour basic workweek.

Q. May an employee volunteer to do his or her job on a nonpay basis during any hours or days designated as furlough time off?

A. No. Unless otherwise authorized by law.

Q. May employees take other jobs during a period designated as furlough time off?

A. While on furlough time off, an individual remains an employee of the Federal Government. Therefore, executive branch-wide standards of ethical conduct and rules regarding outside employment continue to apply when an individual is furloughed.

Q. May an employee take paid leave or other forms of paid time off (e.g., annual, sick, court, or military leave, leave for bone marrow or organ donor leave, credit hours earned, any compensatory time off earned, or time off awards) instead of taking administrative furlough time off?

A. No.

Q. May an employee take LWOP (leave without pay) under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) during a time when administrative furloughs are being conducted for other employees?

A. Yes. An employee may take LWOP under FMLA during a time when administrative furloughs are being conducted for other employees in the same organization. … Furlough hours will not count toward the employee’s 12-week FMLA leave entitlement. An employee may not later substitute paid leave for furlough hours.

Q. Does a furlough affect the accrual of annual leave and sick leave?

A. If an employee is furloughed … the employee’s leave accrual will generally not be affected for that pay period.

My question: Can Congress avoid this madness?

Read more:

[Overshadowed executive order sets stage for threatened federal programs, workforce. Layoffs loom.]

[What is a RIF? A federal worker’s guide to the Trump budget]

[Trump’s federal hiring freeze draws immediate fire from unions]