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Agencies begin to outline furloughs, other sequester cost-cutting

Mar. 4, 2013 - 06:09PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY and STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments

Roughly 15,000 civilian employees at the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command — headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland — will be furloughed one day per week between April 22 and Sept. 21.

Employees will be furloughed either on Mondays or Fridays for the 22 weeks, Dale Ormond, the command’s director, said in a Feb. 28 memo to the National Federation of Federal Employees Local 178, which represents civilian employees at the command’s headquarters. Furloughs should be roughly evenly divided between Mondays and Fridays, so staffing levels will be at essentially 50 percent each day.

All alternative work schedules for employees at the command’s headquarters will be canceled, the memo said, and those employees will be returned to standard five-day workweeks with eight-hour days.

“The above strategy maximizes the ability of RDECOM HQ to perform its mission to the warfighter and continue its support to customers minimizing the furlough impact,” Ormond said in the memo, which NFFE provided Federal Times.

The memo is a sample of the furlough plans taking shape across the government now that the sequester took effect March 1. Nearly all of the Defense Department’s roughly 800,000 civilian employees are expected to be furloughed for 22 days, unless Congress and President Obama find some way to end the sequester’s $85 billion in budget cuts before fiscal 2013 comes to a close.

Many other federal agencies are also unveiling plans for furloughs and other cost-cutting to deal with the sequester:

• All Environmental Protection Agency employees will be subject to furloughs lasting up to 13 days, Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe said in an email late Friday to the agency’s approximately 18,000 employees. EPA will also cut grants and contracts to compensate for the approximately $245 million budget cut for the rest of this fiscal year, Perciasepe added. Under a previously announced plan, employees will have to take four furlough days between April and June. After that, EPA managers will assess the budget outlook to determine whether more unpaid time off is needed.

The email was released by the American Federation of Government Employees council that represents many EPA staff; an agency spokeswoman could not be reached Monday.

• The Justice Department on Feb. 20 sent federal prosecutors a required 30-day notice of furloughs; the FBI and other parts of the department are doing so as well, Jon Adler, national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said in a Monday interview.

For law enforcement agents, the prospect of furloughs is a “congressional dagger in the back,” Adler said, that shows “no appreciation for the risks that we take and the work we do.”

• The National Labor Relations Board sent furlough notices to its 1,640-strong workforce on Feb. 26, a spokeswoman said, adding that the number of furlough days has not been decided.

• The Department of Homeland Security indefinitely postponed an “industry day” scheduled for March 18 in Washington, according to a Saturday notice posted on the government website FedBizOpps.gov.

The annual event, which had drawn 1,100 registrants this year, is intended to give contractors a look at current and upcoming DHS procurement opportunities, said an agency official, who attributed the postponement primarily to the sequester.

“Across the board, conferences, travel and things like that are being looked at very closely,” said the official, who asked not to be identified.

At the Coalition for Government Procurement, a contactor trade group, President Roger Waldron expressed hope that there would be other chances later in the year for companies to touch base with DHS officials face-to-face.

The decision to cancel this month’s event is understandable, Waldron said. “We support the fact that they are taking leadership and trying to address the budget.”

The sequester cuts are required under the 2011 Budget Control Act after lawmakers and the White House failed to agree on a long-term roadmap for reducing future budget deficits by $1.2 trillion. For this year, the cuts total about $85 billion; additional rounds are scheduled to follow each year through 2021.

Non-defense agencies will have to absorb a 5 percent reduction for fiscal 2013, following a final order issued Friday evening by President Obama. For Defense, the cut will be 7.8 percent, according to an accompanying report to Congress by the Office of Management and Budget.

Federal Times also obtained from NFFE letters notifying employees of 22-day furloughs at two more Aberdeen commands — the Army’s Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense and the 20th Support Command, which trains and deploys forces to handle chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosives. NFFE also provided a letter in which the Army said it plans to furlough civilian employees for 22 days at the Army Corps of Engineers’ Walla Walla, Wash., district.

A spokeswoman for Aberdeen Proving Ground said she was unaware of other letters being sent furloughing Aberdeen employees.

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