Nearly Every Major Agency Has Reduced Furloughs

August 16, 2013

When sequestration was about to kick in, the Obama administration began a nearly across-the-board campaign to discuss the devastating impact the automatic cuts would have on agency operations. At the center of these warnings stood employee furloughs: mandatory unpaid leave to help each department meet the lower budget caps that took effect March 1. Furloughs, combined with hiring freezes, would disrupt the proper functioning of government, agency chiefs said, as fewer employees working fewer hours could not accomplish the same amount as a fully staffed workforce, says the Government Executive.

While many federal agencies have in fact moved forward with furloughs, and there remain countless examples of sequestration interfering with government operations, most major departments have reduced furlough days, or eliminated them altogether.

  • The earliest examples came from departments that told Congress they would have to furlough employees, but ended up backtracking.
  • The Education and Justice departments fall into this category. The Agriculture, Transportation and Homeland Security departments all received authority to transfer funds between agency accounts, and were therefore able to cancel planned furloughs.
  • The Commerce Department projected furloughs at its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, only to cancel them in May.

The most significant example of furlough reductions has been the Defense Department.

  • The Pentagon originally planned to furlough all 750,000 of its civilian employees for 22 days.
  • It then used reprogramming to trim that number to 11 days, and more recently (through a series of cost-cutting measures and inter-service transfer of funds) reduced the days of unpaid leave to six.
  • The furloughs are now estimated to affect about 650,000 Defense civilians.

Several agencies have relied on "internal reviews" of their financial conditions, during which they discovered cost-cutting measures had made their situations less dire than originally anticipated. This, in turn, allowed them to cut required furlough days.

  • The Treasury Department, for example, originally said it would furlough all 90,000 of its Internal Revenue Service employees five days, but has since cut the number of days to three.
  • The Housing and Urban Development Department also recently canceled two furlough days. In May, the Environmental Protection Agency cut furloughs by three days.
  • The Interior Department warned of 12 to 14 furlough days for the U.S. Park Police, but ultimately ended the furloughs after employees had taken less than half of the expected total.

Source: Eric Katz, "Nearly Every Major Agency Has Reduced Furloughs," Government Executive, August 13, 2013.

 

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