The threat of sequestration is making federal leaders and employees very nervous. Sequestration is the $109 billion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect on January 2 unless Congress reaches a compromise budget deal.
So how should agencies prepare? Tim McManus is the Vice President for Education and Outreach at the Partnership for Public Service.
He told me on the DorobekINSIDER program about the latest OMB guidance.
"The best thing you can do as a manager is to be transparent and honest," said McManus.
Plan for the worst case scenario. Managers and senior leaders need to put plans in place that address the possibility that sequestration will go into effect and there will be deep across-the-board reductions. It’s important to identify programs and activities that can be cut or put on hold in order to continue those that must survive. In some instances, the worst case includes the possibility of unpaid employee furloughs or actual reductions in force. Better to have a plan of action than to scramble at the last minute.
Plan for the hopeful scenario. The scenario that we hope for envisions Congress and the administration reaching a compromise in a timely fashion and avoiding sequestration. This option will likely require cutbacks, although likely not as severe or arbitrary as sequestration. As a federal manager, set priorities in terms of what programs get carried out with reduced but not draconian funding reductions. Consider where you might switch funding to continue the most essential functions and pinpoint programs that might have to be put on life support.
Engage your employees. Your employees are obviously unsettled and morale may be low. They also have probably figured out that business as usual may not be possible. So a first step is full disclosure. Let them know what you're doing and what you know—and what you don’t know. You may want to seek their ideas on what changes might be made either short term or long term.
Treat your employees like the adults they are. You don’t have to put names on the white board of who’s going to get cut or furloughed in a worst-case scenario, but you can share with them that you are doing your best to plan for all contingencies. Also let them know that you will share the facts as you get them—and then follow through. You should also avoid being either overly optimistic or overly pessimistic. Make it clear that nothing is gained by acting precipitously, such as quitting the organization for a less desirable job in fear of a lay-off that is unlikely to happen.
We want to know how your agency is prepping for sequestration -- are they doing anything?