Federal Eye: Can Obama Order Federal Furloughs?

Chicago shut down most city offices on Monday in an effort to save more than $8 million by year’s end amid the economic slowdown. Mayor Richard M. Daley has made several cuts to the city budget and has forced himself and some city workers to take a 15-day pay cut. In doing so, he recently suggested that President Obama and federal workers do the same.

“I hope every federal employee from the president all the way down takes 15 days without pay to turn that money back to taxpayers’ use, because they’re getting laid off, they’re getting cut back, there are no jobs out there,” Daley said earlier this month.

The mayor’s office did not return several calls for clarification and comment (maybe because of the city shutdown?) but Chicago Sun-Times reporter (and Eye friend) Lynn Sweet notes that Daley “has often rallied against Washington, no matter who is the president.”

Still — is a 15-day federal government furlough doable? Not really, according to experts.

“As long as funding is appropriated, it’s not possible to force federal employees to take furloughs,” said Donald Kettl, dean of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy and a leading expert on the federal government. “As long as funding is available, they couldn’t force people to do it.”

Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service cautioned that a furlough is “exactly the wrong thing to do and it reinforces the misconception about how important the federal workforce is to addressing our problems.” He noted that the 1995 federal government shutdown “horrified” Americans, because “they weren’t getting the services they needed and wanted.”

“Government’s more important now than it’s ever been, because it’s central to solving so many of our problems,” Stier said.

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Amanda Blount

OK I copied these comments from the actual news link ….


Posted by: paulje | August 17, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse
What an incredibly nearsighted proposal. What about all of the shops, restaurants and service providers whose income hinges on the consumer spending of those very same federal workers? Particularly in the DC area, what would happen if thousands of people stopped spending money for three weeks? Stopped going out to eat, stopped buying clothes and other little luxuries? What about the thousands more employed by federal contractors? Depending on the nature of the contract, they’d be out of luck too. Not to mention the janitors, cafeteria workers, building security… all jobs that rely on the continuing operation of the federal government. Consumer activity would come to a near-standstill, with only the most critical transactions taking place.

The 1995 furlough was a bit different, because the affected employees had some hope/expectation that they would eventually be paid when the budget passed. A 15-day pay cut for people already living paycheck-to-paycheck could be catastrophic.


I also copied this comment…


Posted by: cwat | August 17, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

So would we bring the troops back from overseas for 15 days or just keep them in place and tell them to live off the private sector? And would we just walk off the borders or leave a sign up saying “Border closed for 15 days”? And would we ground all civilian aircraft as we shut down the FAA radars? Oh, and if the furlough falls over the first of the month, do we send out Social Security checks late, not at all, or deduct the 15 days from them when we send them out? Just want to understand the ground rules.


Why did I copy the comments? Because I was so mad when I read the article, I could not think of what to write. There are a number of people in my building who are GS-5/GS7s, and they have children in daycare. Most daycares have contracts). So, they still end up paying for that daycare for two weeks, but not getting paid? Let’s think about the Mexican and Chinese resturants right outside our compound? What are they going to do for two weeks? We keep them in business.

How about Krispy Kreme, who we buy from every Monday morning for staff meetings?
How about my two kids in college? I will just tell the college, “sorry can’t pay the bill this month, can you forgive the payment?” Now, don’t get me wrong, I feel really sad for those who are unemployed. I too have family members who are unemployed. But, making me unemployed is not going to help out the unemployed. I have sent money to my extended family members who were unemployed to help pay for their lights and water. Is the mayor willing to let my extended family members go without water and lights? Is that what he is suggesting? I am sure my extended family would think he is nuts. Yes, they are upset they are unemployed, but I think they would be very upset if we were ALL unemployed.

Also, let’s not forget the little things; The vending machine family who makes a very good living off of all the vending machines in our building. How about the money for my daily Diet Mountain Dew, and the gas I buy at the local station. How about the little things I waste my money on at that gas station. My little bit of money is keeping someone fed and clothed. Yet, I am just one person! Does he not realize how many federal employees keep little businesses in business? I guess not. The woman and man who cleans our building just found out their youngest daughter is pregnate. Of course, we government employees will give gifts to that little one. How could I look them in the face and tell them they have no work for the next two weeks and even though they have worked hard for us, we can’t help them with even little gifts for the brand new baby? I will let the mayor tell them they can’t provide for their daughter and the grandson. They, and many government employees, live week to week. This Mayor is so very short sighted. Makes me wonder how he runs his city.

Making more people unemployed is the worst thing he should do to the economy right now.

Amanda Blount

One more thought. If all the federal Employees make 2 weeks less for one year, and all the people who are indirectly affected make a tad bit less for one year, wouldn’t that mean there will be less federal taxes to take out? And, if there are less federal taxes to take out from all of this income (not just the federal employees), aren’t we really just back where we were?