The Environmental Protection Agency may shut down for three days in response to automatic budget cuts set to begin late next week, according to union officials involved in discussions with agency management.
Under a preliminary plan, almost all of EPA’s approximately 18,000 employees would take mandatory furlough days on May 24, July 5 and Aug. 30, according to a summary provided by the American Federation of Government Employees council that represents the bulk of the agency’s workforce.
EPA workers would also have to schedule another three furlough days between April 21 and June 15, according to the summary. The only exceptions would be presidential appointees whose jobs require Senate confirmation, said Chuck Orzehoskie, president of the council.
Agency managers would also encourage a “liberal leave without pay” policy, according to the union, and cut back on spending for travel and supplies.
AFGE, along with other unions representing EPA workers, has been in “pre-decisional” discussions with agency management Wednesday and Thursday, Orzehoskie said. No final decisions will be made until after March 1, when the across-the-board cuts are slated to take effect unless Congress and the Obama administration reach a deal to head them off.
“We’re not going to furlough anybody until Congress says we have to,” Orzehoskie said.
In an email, EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson did not dispute the accuracy of the union’s claims, but also said that no final decisions have been made.
Sequestration would mean a roughly 5 percent budget cut for EPA and other non-defense agencies through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
The EPA cuts would translate into fewer compliance inspections, less money for water quality projects, and cutbacks in research to help communities adapt to climate change, then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson wrote in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., earlier this month.