Webster defines sequester as to cut off. In America, it is the root of the word sequestration – a series of harmful automatic cuts to job-creating investments and defense spending which are scheduled to take effect on March 1 if Congress doesn’t do its job and complete their budget work before then.
If imposed, federal employees would face the most. In addition to the cuts in service all Americans would suffer, federal employees would likely receive smaller pay checks due to unpaid leave. Furloughs would be added to cuts already made amounting to a $103 billion hit on federal compensation over 10 years.
There is no reason that the jobs of thousands of Americans who work in national security or education or clear energy, not to mention the growth of the entire economy, should be put in jeopardy just because folks in Washington couldn’t come together to eliminate a few special-interest tax loopholes or government programs that we agree meet some reform,” Obama said.
During this time of uncertainty, there are some questions and answers that may assist readers better understand what’s happening:
- What steps involving federal employees have agencies already taken?
The largest federal department, Defense, has ordered a civilian hiring freeze in its components with just a few exceptions. It has also made cuts in expenses such as conferences, travel and training for its employees.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has told agencies to scrutinize costs such as travel, training, facilities and supplies.
Both departments may have to furlough employees if sequestration becomes a reality.
- Doesn’t the government have a lot of temporary employees? Will they be laid off?
At the end of September 2012, the executive branch employed 167,675 temporary employees, according to data provided by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). This count includes term employees – persons hired for a specific amount of time in certain specialty categories.
A spokeswoman for the Air Force indicated that commands are currently reviewing temporary and term employees to determine which of these positions are mission critical. We’ve … started the ongoing process to determine some temporary and term employees. At this point in the process, we don’t have specific information on how many positions will be terminated.
- What is the latest on possible unpaid furloughs?
The OMB guidance says agencies may have to consider placing employees on temporary furlough, or taking other personnel actions, should sequestration occur.
Individual agencies would decide if they needed to furlough employees and if they do, when and for how many days.
Both the Army and Navy have told their people to prepare for the possibility of furloughing nearly all their employees by one day a week, starting around April 16.
- If a sequester hits in early March, why would furloughs be delayed into April?
Federal personnel policies guarantee employees who will be furloughed must receive 30 days’ notice. Certain bargaining rights apply where employees have union representation.
- What can federal employees do to prepare themselves for a possible furlough?
Cut back on spending now. Determine what losing 20% of pay a week does to a budget.
- What about making up for the lost income?
Furloughed employees will not be entitled to severance pay because they are not being fired but are being put on leave without pay. They may be eligible for unemployment compensation in some states. Employees may also be allowed to take outside employment, although there will be restrictions that would apply.
- Will all federal employees face 22 days of furlough?
Not necessarily – furloughs will impact each agency differently depending on the amount of the agency’s budget reduction. The 22 day figure is being raised as a possibility in parts of the Defense Department, at least at this point. Other agencies may need to use fewer days, and some may not need any days.
- Are government contractors sharing the pain?
Agencies have delayed awarding some contracts due for renewal and have cut back on the scope of work in others. The Defense Department has announced plans to cut back on depot level maintenance, modernizing facilities and generating operating expenses which will impact contractors who perform much of that work.
The Professional Services Council, a trade association of government contractors, says that tens of thousands of contractor positions have been eliminated as government spending on service-type contracts has fallen from $340 billion in 2009 to $325 billion in 2011.
- What would be the impact of delaying the furlough?
If required savings are not rescinded but rather are only pushed off until later in the budget year, agencies would be forced to make even deeper cuts.
In areas such as Hampton Roads, a sequestration could make devastating economic ripples across the region and state. Contractors at the shipyards are already laying off term employees because government contracts have yet to be signed. One of those recently laid off is my nephew.
Norfolk, home of the world’s largest Navy base, recently had a ship recalled to port because the government did not have sufficient funds to pay its crew for sea duty. If sequestering occurs and every member of the Navy stationed in Virginia loses 20% of his/her pay, the economic impact will be quite harsh.
One last question – how can our government justify sequestering members of our armed forces, the very men and women who put their lives on the line to not only protect us but also our freedom? I’ve noticed the members of Congress – the very people who have created this problem in their failure to stay in Washington and hammer out a true budget for our country – are not listed as one of the agencies forced into sequestration. Go figure!