Furloughs Still a Reality For Thousands

As more agencies avoid unpaid leave in fiscal 2013, the unlucky ones stand out.

More federal agencies than not have avoided employee furloughs as the government heads into its fifth month of sequestration.

The specter of furloughs hanging over the federal workforce for most of 2013 has largely evaporated for several agencies, but thousands of government employees still face unpaid leave through the rest of this summer.

So who’s still on furlough watch in fiscal 2013? Among the unlucky, and dwindling number of agencies on that list, are the Defense, Housing and Urban Development, Interior and Labor departments; Environmental Protection Agency; Internal Revenue Service; Office of Management and Budget; and the federal courts.

Some agencies, like Defense and Labor, have reduced the number of furlough days from original estimates. Defense, which initially planned to furlough all of its nearly 800,000 civilian employees for 22 days, reduced that number to 11 unpaid days off for 650,000 workers, starting July 8. Secretary Chuck Hagel has left open the possibility of further reducing the number of unpaid leave days, but the Pentagon has been silent lately on the topic.

About 4,700 Labor employees are affected by furloughs which began April 15 and run through Sept. 21. The department has reduced its furlough days as well in some agencies, and now the number ranges from one to eight days. Affected Labor agencies include the Employment and Training Administration, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, Office of the Solicitor, and the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. Employees who served more furlough days than necessary before the department reduced them will be paid for that time, said Alex Bastani, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 12. Bastani said that not many employees fall into that category.

Furloughs are still on the table is the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where about 4,100 employees are at risk. “BIA is currently reviewing the possibility of furloughs and has not issued final guidance,” said press secretary Jessica Kershaw in an email. Interior was able to avoid furloughs at the U.S. Geological Survey “by reducing travel and attendance at conferences, among other cost-saving measures,” Kershaw said. The department in May cancelled furloughs for the Park Police as of June 1.

Political clout, security concerns, and natural disasters each have played roles in determining which agencies receive a reprieve. The Food and Drug Administration and Federal Aviation Administration escaped furloughs after fears over food safety and chaos in airports reached a fever pitch. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scrapped furloughs after the devastating storms this spring in Oklahoma and Missouri.

A little over three months remain in fiscal 2013. That means there’s time for other agencies to either reduce the number of furlough days or cancel them altogether. But on Oct. 1, the clock resets and furloughs are back on the table for everyone.

For a more comprehensive list of furlough policies across government, click here.

(Image via Lightspring/Shutterstock.com)

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