Several Agencies Still Mum on Furloughs

By Eric Katz

May 2, 2013

Several federal agencies have left their employees in sequestration limbo, failing to provide any details on the effects the automatic budget cuts will have on their workforces.

Though sequestration is a 10-year budget reduction program, agencies have only begun scheduling furloughs through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Most agencies have either sent out official furlough notices or have announced that they don’t intend to require the unpaid leave, but some agencies are still undecided.

Workers at Cabinet-level departments, such as Health and Human Services and Education, as well as some at smaller agencies like the Social Security Administration and Government Printing Office, have not received word of whether they will be forced to take furlough days in fiscal 2013 or any update on when a decision will come. There are just five months left in the fiscal year.

“HHS has not issued any official furlough notices at this time, and we have not made any specific decisions at this time about implementing any furloughs in the future,” department spokesman Bill Hall told Government Executive.

Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan has repeatedly warned of furloughs -- telling Congress in February Education might have to furlough “many of its own employees for multiple days” -- but no notices have gone out and a department spokeswoman confirmed no decisions have been made.

The Government Printing Office has attempted to implement other cuts throughout the agency to avoid furloughs, but still may need to implement unpaid leave.

“To offset a potential decline in GPO’s business resulting from the impact of the sequester on other federal agencies, we have cut spending, implemented a hiring freeze, and deferred investments,” agency spokesman Gary Somerset told Government Executive. “To date in this fiscal year, these efforts have helped us avert the need for furloughs.”

He would not rule out the need for furloughs, however, adding: “We will take the necessary steps should furloughs be required by changes in our business beyond our control.”

A union official who represents GPO workers said the agency has been “vague and evasive” in dealing with questions about the effects sequestration will have on the workforce.

“We have been in negotiations with management for about six weeks with no end in sight,” said George Lord, chairman of the Joint Council of Unions for GPO.

In February, SSA told Congress it was “uncertain” about the need for furloughs. The agency did not return multiple requests for an update, but has not issued an official statement on the necessity of forcing unpaid leave.

The furlough fate of nearly 800,000 civilians at the Defense Department also remains uncertain, although the Pentagon has said it will reach a decision “in the near future.”  

By Eric Katz

May 2, 2013