Furloughed Transportation employees have yet to receive checks

Budget analysts note compensating inspectors for two days of lost work would not add to the deficit because the money already has been appropriated.

Nearly 2,000 Transportation Department employees furloughed in early March have yet to receive compensation for two lost days of work even though, according to the Congressional Budget Office, repaying them would not add to the federal deficit. Earlier this week, CBO issued a report stating it would take about $1 million to repay the highway project inspectors for the two furloughed days. But because Congress already has appropriated that money to Transportation, authorizing the department to use it to repay the employees would not affect the deficit, according to the report. If the money doesn't go toward the furloughed employees, Transportation likely will use it to cover other administrative costs, the budget analysts found.

The House overwhelmingly passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., that would have repaid the employees. But the measure hit resistance from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who said Congress should use money from its own budget rather than Transportation's to compensate the employees. Lawmakers should be penalized, he said, for causing the furloughs through a delay passing a 30-day extension of the Highway Trust Fund.

Connolly's language was added to a larger Senate bill that would have authorized unemployment insurance and COBRA health benefits for an additional 30 days. But that bill, too, hit Republican opposition, and Democratic lawmakers were unable to pass it before the two-week Easter recess. The Senate will reconvene on April 12.

George Burke, spokesman for Connolly, noted Congress repaid federal employees who were out of work for nearly one month when the government shut down in 1995. "Quite frankly, it's a little absurd, since the money to pay for those folks has long been appropriated," he said. "They just need to get paid."

Coburn's office did not return calls for comment.