Some Agencies Won’t Need Furloughs Under Sequester

GAO head Gene Dodaro GAO head Gene Dodaro Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Sequestration will not bring furloughs at every agency, as some leaders have said they can reduce their budgets in other areas to avoid requiring employees to take unpaid leave.

The Small Business Administration will rely on staff cuts made through early retirements in 2012 to avoid furloughs, should sequestration go into effect March 1, according to an Associated Press report. Outgoing Administrator Karen Mills said an anticipated reduction in a certain type of loan -- due to a now expired provision that spiked its use -- should allow the agency to continue to lend without cutting back.

SBA will cut $902 million from the $30 billion it guaranteed in loans in fiscal 2012, according to AP. 

The Government Accountability Office also plans to avoid furloughs, according to the Washington Post. U.S. Comptroller General and GAO head Gene Dodaro told agency employees not to expect furloughs, as spending reductions in hiring, retention programs, travel and information technology will allow the auditors to avoid forced unpaid leave.

Dodaro said the projection is subject to change as Congress could still alter GAO’s appropriations for fiscal year 2013.

The Smithsonian Institution does not anticipate furloughs this year for any of its roughly 4,000 federal employees -- about two-thirds of the trust establishment’s workforce.

“I do not expect our day-to-day operations to change dramatically on or immediately after March 1, should sequestration occur,” Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough told employees last week in an email. “At this time, we do not foresee implementing furloughs to reach our reduced funding level in the current fiscal year, and would only do so if absolutely necessary.”

Under sequestration, the Smithsonian would need to cut about $40 million -- about 5 percent of its budget -- by the end of the fiscal year, according to spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. Federal funds make up about 65 percent of the Smithsonian budget, with the rest coming from contributions and other sources of income, including from museum stores and cafes.

“We had been planning this for a long time,” St. Thomas said, adding that the organization was only safe from furloughs through Sept. 30. “If this sequestration goes on after that, then it’s a whole different situation -- and not just for us.”

The vast majority of federal departments and agencies have publicly stated their intention to furlough employees under sequestration, ranging from a few days in 2013 to a few per pay period.

Some agencies have not said they will issue furloughs, but have not ruled out the possibility. The Social Security Administration said in a Feb. 1 letter to Congress it remains “uncertain” about reducing its employees’ hours, which would save about $25 million per furlough day. It will instead try to reach the reduced budget level through attrition. NASA has also not notified its employees of any furlough possibility, but a spokesman told Government Executive “all possible effects” of sequestration are “still being assessed.”

The Health and Human Services Department has been similarly vague about furloughs, neither issuing the necessary notices nor precluding their use.

“HHS does not have final plans or estimates of the impacts on its federal employees at this time,” said Bill Hall, a department spokesman.

Some federal employees, such as those at the Veterans Affairs Department and military personnel, are exempt from sequestration. Employees at independent agencies that receive little or no federal funding -- such as the U.S. Postal Service or the Federal Deposit Insurance Company -- are also not subject to the cuts. 

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Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify SBA's sequestration plans. 

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