White House: Sequestration Would Mean Hundreds of Thousands of Furloughs

USDA food safety inspectors could be furloughed two weeks. USDA food safety inspectors could be furloughed two weeks. AP file photo

The White House on Friday put out a fact sheet reiterating that the across-the-board spending cuts slated to take effect on March 1 would result in widespread furloughs of federal employees who provide critical government services from tax collection to law enforcement.

Because the sequester would occur later in the fiscal year than originally planned, non-defense agencies would be forced to absorb a 9 percent cut for the remaining seven months of the year, and the Defense Department would see a 13 percent cut, the White House said.

In a briefing with reporters on Friday, U.S. Controller Danny Werfel said he was not aware of any specific furlough notices that had gone out to federal employees, but added that “there’s no way to implement the sequester without significant furloughs of hundreds of thousands of federal employees.”

Asked for more precise numbers of federal employees and contractors that would be affected, he said: “I just know it’s high; it’s in the hundreds of thousands of employees, but I don’t have a specific estimate.” 

The “severe impacts” across the government the Obama administration highlighted in its fact sheet include:

  • Loss of more than 1,000 FBI and other law enforcement agents
  • Justice Department furloughs of hundreds of federal prosecutors
  • Furloughs of all Agriculture Department Food Safety and Inspection Service employees for approximately two weeks
  • An unspecified number of furloughs at the Internal Revenue Service that would lead to more fraud slipping through
  • Reduced hours at Social Security Administration offices
  • Taking Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors “off the job for some period of time”

The statement comes as the administration is trying to convince Congress to again delay the across-the-board cuts until lawmakers and the White House can agree upon a longer term deficit reduction plan.

In response to the fact sheet, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, agreed sequestration is bad but said Republicans had passed legislation to replace the cuts and now it was up to Obama to propose something. “Without a plan to prevent his sequester, the president is out of excuses,” Boehner said.  

The National Treasury Employees Union said it has had very "preliminary" discussions with agencies about sequestration, but that it still lacks detailed information. The White House fact sheet underscores, however, that the impact would be significant, the union said in a statement.

"There are those in Congress to whom sequestration is just another political bargaining chip,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said. “The realities laid bare by this fact sheet clearly show that sequestration would be a disaster, and would slow economic growth and job creation.”

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