On the same day President Obama warned Congress that he would not negotiate budget cuts under threat of lawmaker refusal to raise the debt ceiling, his acting budget director told agency heads to “intensify efforts to identify actions that may be required should sequestration occur.”
In a Monday memo to all agency heads, Jeffrey Zients reviewed the array of unpleasant steps—from furloughs to hiring freezes to termination of contract hires—that could be included in draft plans that managers are currently preparing.
“The administration continues to urge Congress to take prompt action to address the current budgetary uncertainty, including through the enactment of balanced deficit reduction to avoid sequestration,” Zients wrote after recapping the looming deadlines—March 1 for when Obama must order across-the-board spending cuts totaling $85 billion absent a new budget deal, and March 27 for when the current continuing resolution expires.
“Hundreds of thousands of families will lose critical education and wellness services through Head Start and nutrition assistance programs,” Zients said. “The Department of Defense will face deep cuts that will reduce readiness of non-deployed units, delay needed investments in equipment and facilities and cuts services for military families. And federal agencies will likely need to furlough hundreds of thousands of employees and reduce essential services such as food inspections, air travel safety, prison security, border patrols, and other mission-critical activities.”
In general terms, the memo advises agencies to:
- “use flexibility” to reduce operational risks and minimize impacts on agency’s core mission;
- identify challenges that could harm the agency’s mission or “otherwise raise life, safety or health concerns”;
- identify the “the most appropriate means to reduce civilian workforce costs where necessary -- hiring freezes, releasing temporary employees or not renewing contract hires, authorizing buyouts or administrative furloughs;
- review grants and contracts for cost savings;
- take into account “funding flexibilities,” including reprogramming and transfer authority; and
- be aware of requirements of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires contractors to issue a 60-day notification to their workers before planned layoffs.
“Should circumstances require an agency to take actions that would constitute a change from normal practice and result in a reduction of normal spending and operations in the immediate or near-term,” Zients wrote, “the agency must coordinate closely with its OMB Resource Management Office before taking any such actions.”