Bill Aims to Give Agencies Furlough Flexibility

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Senate legislation introduced Monday would allow federal agencies to decide which employees should stay on the job during sequestration.

The bill would exempt “essential employees” from furlough during sequestration, using the same language to differentiate essential and nonessential employees as during a government shutdown. An essential employee is one who “performs work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, as determined by the head of the agency,” according to government shutdown guidance from the Office of Personnel Management.

The legislation also would provide agency heads with the authority to shift funds in their budgets to avoid furloughing essential employees during sequestration. Agencies must seek congressional approval for such reprogramming requests.

OPM distinguishes administrative furloughs from shutdown furloughs, the latter resulting from a lapse in congressionally-appropriated funding. Administrative furloughs, which agencies are dealing with now as a result of the sequester, are “a planned event by an agency which is designed to absorb reductions necessitated by downsizing, reduced funding, lack of work, or any other budget situation other than a lapse in appropriations,” stated OPM’s April guidance on administrative furloughs.

Many agencies have said they lack flexibility to determine which employees to furlough. The Agriculture Department, for instance, said it would have to furlough food inspectors because of sequestration. That prompted Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., to add funds last month to the fiscal 2013 continuing resolution to ensure no meat inspectors would be furloughed. Advocates for other civilian employees, including those in air traffic control, are looking for similar exemptions.

Blunt is sponsoring the bill introduced Monday, dubbed the 2013 Essential Services Act. He unsuccessfully tried to add it as an amendment to the CR, which keeps the government running through Sept. 30. “This bill will help ensure the Obama administration spends taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars in a way that prioritizes our nation’s economy, protects private-sector jobs, and defends our national security,” Blunt said.

But agencies already might have some flexibility when determining administrative furloughs. “Agencies are responsible for identifying the employees affected by administrative furloughs based on budget conditions, funding sources, mission priorities (including the need to perform emergency work involving the safety of human life or protection of property), and other mission-related factors,” OPM’s April guidance stated.

Whether agencies truly are able to tap that flexibility right now is another story.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.