In just the past few weeks, the government shut down, reopened and skirted a default on its debts. We could all do without that kind of excitement for a while.
A while, in this case, is less than three months, roughly the amount of time left until the current continuing resolution funding agencies expires. Absent a grand budget bargain between Republicans and Democrats in December, the beginning of 2014 will put us right back where we were in September and October 2013. We’ve got new deadlines for the same old problems. Oh, and remember sequestration? Another round of automatic, governmentwide budget cuts hits in mid-January, unless Congress reverses them. Federal employees, many of whom were furloughed during the summer and again in the fall because of the shutdown, face the prospect of more unpaid leave or even layoffs heading into the new year.
There’s one bright spot for federal workers on the horizon: It’s looking more likely that they will get an across-the-board pay hike in 2014, the first such increase in three years. And the 2013 holiday season is looking relatively hassle-free, at least from a congressional perspective. Lawmakers were careful not to schedule any major upcoming deadlines that could disrupt holiday travel or family time.
Here’s an updated timeline of important dates for federal employees to watch over the next few months:
- Oct. 30: House and Senate budget conferees hold their first public meeting. The continuing resolution re-opening government included a provision creating the panel to come up with a deficit reduction plan before the end of the year.
- Nov. 11: Open Season for health, dental, and vision insurance as well as flexible spending accounts begins. Federal employees might want to shop around for a better deal to save money in preparation for any possible future unpaid leave due to sequestration, or another shutdown.
- Dec. 9: Open Season ends.
- Dec. 13: The House and Senate budget conference committee presents its fiscal recommendations. A grand bargain is a long shot, considering the failure of the 2011 joint congressional supercommittee to produce a deficit reduction plan and avoid sequestration. The current House and Senate budgets are very different, so the conferees have their work cut out for them in finding common ground. Federal employees should pay attention to the negotiations and the panel’s recommendations. Feds’ pay and benefits have been on the table before in these discussions.
- Dec. 16: Congress begins its holiday recess through the end of the year. During the past few years, both chambers have worked up to the end of December to debate and vote on important budget legislation. This year should be less chaotic since the next big budget deadline isn’t until Jan. 15. And Congress, as we all know, likes to procrastinate.
- Dec. 31: Look for news regarding a possible civilian pay increase around this time, or an extension of the pay freeze, now in its third year. President Obama wants to give civilian employees (as well as military personnel) a 1 percent, across-the-board pay boost in 2014. The current continuing resolution does not prohibit one. If lawmakers do not pass a measure prohibiting a raise or extending the pay freeze, which doesn’t look likely at this time, then the president’s recommendation takes effect.
- Jan. 1: 1 percent across-the-board pay raise for federal civilian and military personnel takes effect unless Congress blocks it.
- Jan. 15: Mark your calendars. This is an important date. The current continuing resolution funding the government expires and the automatic cuts under sequestration take effect for fiscal 2014 on this date, unless Congress changes the law before then. Agencies likely will start announcing furlough plans soon after, if the sequester remains in place. The FBI has already said it will furlough employees for 10 days if the sequester continues next year, and the Defense Department has said it might have to resort to laying off civilian employees.
- Feb. 3: President Obama must submit his fiscal 2015 budget proposal to Congress by the first Monday in February. But Obama typically has been late delivering his blueprint, blaming sequestration and delaying his fiscal 2014 proposal until April 2013. It’s likely the fiscal 2015 proposal also will be late for similar reasons.
Feb. 7: The government hits its latest debt ceiling on this date. Unless there’s an extension before Feb. 7, the Treasury secretary will use emergency borrowing authority to give the government a few months’ wiggle room to avoid defaulting on its debts. One of the extraordinary measures that the government often has used to avoid a default is tapping into and suspending investments into the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund and halting the daily reinvestment of the government securities (G) fund, the most stable offering in the Thrift Savings Plan's portfolio. The law requires the Treasury secretary to refill the coffers of the G Fund and the Civil Service Retirement Fund once the issue of the debt ceiling is resolved, and in addition, to make up for any interest lost on those investments during the suspension.