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A Forced 4-Day Weekend for 1 in 20 Feds

Several agencies shut their doors for the day, forcing unpaid leave.

Several federal agencies have shuttered their doors Friday, opting to take departmentwide furlough days to reach the cuts required by sequestration.

The Environmental Protection Agency, Housing and Urban Development Department, Internal Revenue Service and the Office of Management and Budget have forced all their employees to simultaneously take unpaid leave. Overall, about 115,000 federal employees -- or more than 5 percent of the workforce -- are not working Friday.

While the agencies remain closed, some employees still had to report to work.

“People that are required to keep the building running” will be in Friday, said Jerry Brown, a HUD spokesman. He added there are always people on call in case of emergency.

A call to EPA’s headquarters was answered, but an operator said the agency “is closed due to sequestration,” though some off-site contractors -- such as the operator -- are still working. OMB set up a voicemail to warn callers of its closure.

“Due to current budget constraints resulting in a furlough, we are not in the office on Friday, May 24 and not available to take your call,” the message said.

A note on IRS’ website warns taxpayers looking for refund information that online services will be unavailable through Tuesday, May 28, due to “several factors, including scheduled maintenance.”

Friday is the first of five planned furlough days at IRS.

“Due to the current budget situation, including the sequester, all IRS operations will be closed on those days,” the IRS said in a statement. “This means that all IRS offices, including all toll-free hotlines, the Taxpayer Advocate Service and the agency’s nearly 400 taxpayer assistance centers nationwide, will be closed on those days. IRS employees will be furloughed without pay. No tax returns will be processed and no compliance-related activities will take place.”

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union -- which represents IRS employees -- said the furloughs will have a deep impact on IRS workers.

 “Losing 10 percent of your pay in a single pay period is no small matter,” Kelley said in a statement, “especially when you face the same rising prices for necessities that are affecting your friends, neighbors and community.”

With Memorial Day falling on Monday, May 27, the unpaid day off offers workers a four-day weekend. Kelley said this is of little consolation, however.

“NTEU would have preferred that employees have the flexibility to choose their furlough days to account for personal needs, such as day care arrangements or financial considerations,” Kelley told Government Executive. “However, the IRS made the decision to close before Memorial Day for operational considerations.”

For EPA employees, this is first of four departmentwide furlough days, but workers must take 13 in total. At HUD, all seven furlough days will close the entire agency. OMB will force 480 employees to take 10 unpaid days off.

(Image via terekhov igor/Shutterstock.com)