This story has been updated.
Federal employees scheduled to work on Wednesday should report as planned, even if Congress is unable to avert automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
The threat of sequestration still loomed Tuesday, after key House Republicans rejected a plan crafted overnight and approved overwhelmingly by the Senate that would, among other things, postpone sequestration for two months. It was unclear if the House would pass the legislation or if the Senate would accept an amended package before Wednesday, when sequestration was set to take hold under the 2011 Budget Control Act.
As a result, by Tuesday evening, the possibility remained that sequestration would go into effect, even if only for several hours or days while Congress tweaked a temporary fix.
OPM’s recent guidance specifically addresses these cuts. “Under sequestration, agencies would still have funds available after Jan. 2, but the overall funding for the remainder of the fiscal year would be reduced,” OPM said. “This means that agencies will not be executing any immediate personnel actions, such as furloughs, on Jan. 2. If furloughs or other personnel actions prove to be necessary, agencies will provide affected employees the requisite advance notice.”
OPM has distinguished administrative furloughs from emergency furloughs, which take place immediately in the event of a government shutdown. If sequestration were to take effect and hold long enough for furloughs to become necesseary, most employees must be provided at least 30 days notice of an administrative furlough scheduled to last 22 workdays or less, and at least 60 days notice of one lasting longer than that.
The Obama administration has said it will be up to agencies to determine if and where cuts would be necessary and that unions covering federal employees would get more information about possible furloughs before they occur. Under any type of furlough, employees are not allowed to work without pay unless voluntary services are permitted by law in their case.
The Office of Management and Budget said earlier in December that furloughs would be a last resort under sequestration.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union President, urged lawmakers on Tuesday to avoid the automatic cuts. “Federal employees have just ended a very difficult year in which they faced potential government shutdowns and constant attacks on their pay and benefits, and a pay freeze extending more than two years,” she said. “With sequestration employees could be subject to furloughs even as the American public looks toward them for services citizens count on. Our country, and our federal workforce, deserve better than this continued uncertainty.”
J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, also was cautious about the plan approved by the Senate to delay sequestration.
“AFGE members are very concerned about the use of additional agency funding cuts in order to pay for the delay of the sequester,” he said. “Before they look any further at unpaid furloughs or other cuts to critical agency programs, OMB should sharply reduce the amount taxpayers provide to federal contractors for excessive salaries for their top executives.”