Feds anticipate the worst as spending cuts loom

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Most federal workers believe their agency will have to furlough employees if sequestration happens and remains in effect, according to a poll of Government Executive readers.

Nearly 70 percent of more than 4,000 respondents expected furloughs as a result of the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts -- despite the fact that the Office of Management and Budget has said they are a last resort. Thirty-eight percent said they believed they would be furloughed, while 35 percent considered it a possibility, and 27 percent did not think they would be affected. If Congress does not act to further delay or reverse sequestration, it will go into effect on March 1.

Because the Obama administration waited so long to even acknowledge the possibility of sequestration, there’s still a lot of uncertainty over how the indiscriminate spending cuts will affect government services and the federal workforce. The administration has offered scant guidance, and individual agencies are planning for the cuts. But no one really knows where, how or when the ax will fall.

OMB has recommended agencies consider hiring freezes, drop temporary workers from the payroll, and review grants and contracts for savings. The Pentagon has ordered a civilian hiring freeze, and some Defense agencies, including the Army, have issued separate guidance that includes a framework for furloughs, if they become necessary.

Government Executive’s poll reflected the lack of information available to federal workers about how sequestration will affect their jobs, pay and benefits. Eighty-four percent of respondents said their agencies had not provided any guidance beyond the generic information from OMB, while 76 percent of those participating in the poll said their agencies had not explained to them what sequestration is, and 70 percent did not understand how the spending cuts could affect their pay and benefits.

Employees’ worry and uncertainty over how sequestration will play out is taking a toll on productivity, according to many observers. Aside from personal concerns over their jobs, 65 percent of poll respondents believed the spending cuts would impede their agency’s ability to meet its mission.

Despite fear of sequestration, respondents did support more targeted budget cuts, according to the poll. Sixty-seven percent believed their agency could stand to trim some fat from its budget, with 40 percent supporting contracting cuts and 25 percent identifying travel and training as areas ripe for savings. Eleven percent chose hiring as an area in which to look for savings, while 23 percent opted for “other.”

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