GAO contemplates layoffs

The government's watchdog is weighing a range of options, including layoffs, to confront what the agency expects will be major cuts to its fiscal 2012 budget.

"We're reviewing all elements of the budget and all aspects of our operation: headquarters, field, mission [and] mission support," Chuck Young, managing director of public affairs at the Government Accountability Office, said in an email. "We'll be assessing all of the options under consideration with an expectation that we need to make decisions early in the fiscal year to gain the economic benefits that we need," he said, adding that no final decisions have been made.

The House this summer passed a fiscal 2012 legislative branch spending bill that includes a 6.4 percent cut over fiscal 2011 to GAO's budget. The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved its 2012 legislative branch spending bill with an even larger reduction over the watchdog's fiscal 2011 budget -- 7.6 percent. "We just recently received the Senate mark," Young said. "These are major cuts."

As part of its contract, GAO told its union that reductions in force were being considered. The agency is obligated to discuss possible RIFs with its union and solicit input from members before any final decisions on layoffs are made. The agency last had RIFs in 2005.

"We are very concerned, but we see this as a very positive thing that we are involved in the discussion of how the agency may address whatever the shortfall is in the budget," said Ron La Due Lake, president of GAO's Employees Organization, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 1921. La Due Lake said it's been challenging having a discussion in the absence of a final appropriations bill, but the two sides are talking.

He said both the agency and the union are concerned about the extent of likely cuts. "I don't believe anyone was expecting it," he said.

In August, GAO sought permission to offer buyouts, or voluntary separation incentives, to 56 employees. The application process closed on Tuesday.

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