Mandatory UnPaid Leave Proposed for Feds

Unemployment is high in America so a bill was introduced by Mike Coffman (R-CO) that could allegedly cut $5.5 billion from the federal budget by requiring two weeks of mandatory unpaid leave for federal employees.

H.R. 6134, is a one year measure to reduce federal spending and combat the unsustainable deficit spending in Washington. The bill is also designed to ensure “that federal workers are not sheltered from the realities of life in today’s economy.”

What do you think? Is this notion something you would support? [read more]

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Avatar photo Bill Brantley

I am so thankful that I am not being “sheltered from the realities of life in today’s economy.” Other than having to support my fiance who is still looking for work after having her last place shut down due to state government budget cuts and supporting tenants back in Kentucky who haven’t paid their rent for the last six months because there is essentially no work, I’ve been rather unaware that there is a recession going on.

Ed Albetski

I would sincerely hope for the sake of inclusiveness that Mr.Coffman’s bill include all Congressional representatives, senators, and their staffs in this scheme. And the CIA and the military as well. Hey, the economy touches us all. Man up.

Sam Allgood

The best solution to combat the unsustainable deficit spending in Washington would be to make the bill apply to the legislators. Better yet, the public will be voting on such a solution in just over a month!

Jenyfer Johnson

I guess they didn’t like everyone’s suggestion of a 10% voluntary pay cut for the Senate and Congress as an act of good faith to show how they were “biting the bullet” along with regular Americans”. But they can sacrifice others?

Dean Johnson

Freak show outrageous! Coffman and his cronies need to bite that bullet for themselves if they want to show the public the government “feels their pain”!


Glad to hear this is at least being considered with our economy as it is. There are so many people unemployed. Seems like Federal goverment is the only one who hasn’t been impacted up until now – didn’t Federal employees get a pay increase not too long ago? Many people have received pay cuts (furloughs) and no raises for a FEW years now (state/local government and private sector).
@ Ed – I agree. It should be everyone, but probably doubtful. Here in Az when we took the 5% paycut and furloughs for 2 yrs – it excluded the legislature.
@ Tim – So true for those nearing retirement!
@ Gerald – I think you’re right – it probably won’t pass.

Jenyfer Johnson

Tricia – I believe the pay increase last year was just over 2%…not even enough to cover inflation and the increase in our health insurance costs (which were between 7-13%, if I remember correctly, for most).
So I don’t really think of THAT as a “pay increase” last year!

Sterling Whitehead

@Tricia is right that this idea needs to be floated, even if it won’t pass . There are a lot of people experiencing pain. Still, I think it would cause more harm than good on moral. I’d like the idea more if it were just for budgetary reasons. However, it strikes me more as a “let’s get the feds” revenge-type move.

If this happens and Congress takes the same pay cut as federal workers, I’d be happy to do it. But somehow, I don’t see that happening.


@Jenyfer – Hey, at least it’s some type of movement – counts for something! Try no increase in pay for 3 1/2 yrs – here’s how it’s worked out: Increase in benefits costs to employees each year for the past 3 years, having your salary cut by 5% and being furloughed as well! I’m happy to be employed rather than be joining the ranks of the unemployed. I should think others should share this viewpoint as well — it could always be worse!

Jenyfer Johnson

Tricia – I don’t think it’s right for you, me or anyone! Cutting someone’s livelyhood is NOT the way to cut the budget. I think there is FAR more fat in the federal system that can afford to be cut before we have to put employees on forced furloughs…but that’s just my opinion after 27 years of federal employment (and a few RIFs, down-sizing, right-sizing, BRAC, etc).

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Murray Dale Watts

I understand why so many people think this sounds like a good idea but… for me it will make things more difficult. Yes, I am a well paid government employee with two college graduate daughters who can’t find full time work. (and yes they are looking at everything in their commuting area) So I am helping support two additional families. My fat government check will only stretch so far. I also know that I am not the only fed who is supporting other family members during this difficult time.

Doris Tirone

I’m just curious about why it makes sense to Mike Coffman (R-CO) (or any other supporters of this bill) to mandate the loss of even more income into our economy when the economiy needs salaries & wages to continue flowing to keep money moving and we need to find ways to encourage spending.

Jeff S

Will this be one week at a time or two weeks off without pay? Can we schedule ten furlough days throughout the year? How will this affect our Health insurance since its based on an 80 hour pay?

Margaret Schneider Ross

I’d support mandatory unpaid time off over other, possibly more permanent solutions. When I re-started with the government last year, after 8 years in the private sector, I took a 50% pay cut. My husband and I agreed that we would lose money for a couple years because the career ladder for this new job would mean that eventually we’d be fine.

I’d rather have mandatory unpaid leave (which at least would mean I’d get some time with my kids) than a situation where I got riffed, where my possibilities for promotion were frozen, or where I’d have to return to the consulting world, where pay is higher, but the hours are longer, and I never know where I’m going to be.

Anna Abbey

If you want to cut the federal budget, why not work to minimize the perverse incentives that encourage every office to dump/hide/spend money at the end of the fiscal year regardless of need? Or go through any number of other initiatives that could increase effeciency?
Punitive action against government employees won’t improve the effectiveness of our work or lead us to sustainable governence. All it will do is cause more hardship for American families.

Ashley smoot

The budget crisis is due to the fact that for the last 10 years Presidents and Congress have cut taxes mainly for the wealthy, borrowed all the money to fight two wars, and done essentially nothing to bring down the cost of entitlements. Most of the increases in domestic discretionary spending have been primarily in the needed areas of security or veterans care. The notion of not paying government employees is scoring a dishonest political point which perpetuates the myth that “big government” is the problem. The problem isn’t big government; it is entitlements and the irresponsibility of a political system that has only focused on its own preservation and refuses to do anything that might anger senior citizens who vote in large numbers. Mainly Republicans, but Democrats haven’t done much to address anything since they took power, so both sides are guilty.
We government employees shouldn’t be totally shielded and in light of the tough job market and economy, I am willing to take a share of punishment that reflects reality, but before that happens other measures to address the real problems should be put in place. This proposal and a lot of the rhetoric out there are attempts to obfuscate the real issues to suit political power objectives. What we need is more honesty, not more bull crap.

Tricia Adkins

According to the Washington Post, the days would have to be non-consecutive (i.e., “Federal Furlough Fridays”). He also proposed a 10% pay cut for legislators with this bill. I saw something else circulating around that if the Republicans gained control again that they were going to shut down the government like they did in 1995. Rumors (maybe), but we may get our time off anyway even if this bill is just a re-election ploy.

Carol Davison

Why don’t they just pass legislation to balance the budget rather than the shell game they presently use? And if we must be furoughed-why not just let us take any 10 days as we wish rater than forcing me to take non consecutive ones.

Margaret Schneider Ross

All it says in the bill about how the days should be taken is:
(c) Rule of Construction- Nothing in this section shall be considered to require that mandatory unpaid leave be taken over a continuous period.

Rebecca Ross

We believed our state furloughs would prevent people losing their jobs and many of us were happy to take cuts as long as everyone could stay employed. Now we need another 6.3% reduction, which will probably mean layoffs anyway.

Rob Carty

Local governments (and state) have been doing this for two years or more to avoid or lessen layoffs. It’s not fun, but in some cases it can help avoid worse cuts or service reductions (though as Rebecca mentions, that may even only be temporary). While 5.5B is no small number, this looks more like a political move to get attention rather than an attempt to make a significant lasting impact on the budget. In the local realm, furloughs and layoffs usually come when ideas for alternatives have run dry; while not working at the federal level I can imagine that real ideas for saving haven’t been given their due before necessitating draconian measures like this.

Robin Johnson

It would be fine with me! I need a vacation and I’m not hurting financially.

Also, in my work with state and local governments, I hear about mandatory furloughs and layoffs that are affecting them. Something like this would be a way to show that feds are in there with them.

This may be the one time this year I agree with a Replublican….;-)

jill herndon

About 20 or so years ago we did this on a voluntary basis up to full part-time. Because it was voluntary and each Supervisor/Management Team could negotiate the schedule and adjust work expectations there was minimal disruption to Federal business. Granted, we did less work; but then that is what the mandatory unpaid leave would do too. For those of us who could take advantage of it, it was a good time to try out other types of work (one became a real estate agent, full part-time). I created a partnership for one afternoon a week with a start-up called “The Metanetwork” and learned some things about social networking before we found a good name for it. My circle of “friends” became International overnight, in on-going conversation and mentoring about organizational transformation and change agent strategies. I joined the first online newsletter as an editor for articles for publication. It was really fun to work “outside the box” — and in ways that pre-paved what we have here and do together.

Jenyfer Johnson

The problem with “unpaid leave” in the federal government is that it can affect your retirement date, that is if you accumulate over a certain amount of unpaid leave. The reason I bring this up is because there are people out there that may already have a number of day accumulated due to a serious illness, such as cancer treatment, extensive surgery, caring for a family member, etc., and this is a serious issue. I know this from my personal experience last year going through chemo and radiation. It eats up your leave very quickly and leave donations don’t always cover everything you need.

As far as causing people to volunteer on their forced time off I think the people that are inclined to volunteer are probably already doing so. I doubt this will encourage any more people to volunteer if they haven’t already. People that want to “donate” will always make the time!

Tom Melancon

I’m in a situation where I could take a couple weeks of unpaid leave and I’d be ok financially. I know that a lot of federal employees are not in the same boat, and I think it would cause a burden to many people. Part of me likes this idea, becuase I’m for any idea that balances the federal budget. However, I would want to see equal or at least equitable cuts in other comparable areas of the government, including defense spending, which often seems to get left off of the table when people talk of balancing the budget, making it truly the big “elephant” in the room noone wants to talk about.

Michael Marshall

Unpaid leave? How about unpaid debt for the same two weeks? This is absurd and it speaks to a bigger problem of our nation not really knowing where the money is going or how to budget their on checkbook.

Michael Marshall

While I’m at it…how about the legislative branch lead the way & furlough their pay since they already receive government transportation & housing.

Cheryl Wahlheim

I am from Colorado. Mike was the State Treasurer for a while in Colorado. Our state has recently gone through unprecendented cuts to our economy. Everyone has taken a hit; schools, Department of Corrections, roads, and state employees. State employees have been taking mandatory days off without pay for awhile. They don’t like it (I wouldn’t like it either) but I agree, the Feds should share the pain we are all going through. $5.5 billion is too big a number to ignore.

Kristy Dalton

Welcome to local government’s world. Last year we were mandated to take about 9 unpaid days here at my municipality. They could have just decided to cut our pay without the days off, so I was happy. I had the opportunity to do some consulting work during my unpaid days off, which allowed me to recoup the money lost. (Not that it saved us from layoffs; we still lost 200+ positions).

Doris Tirone

I want to know how it helps the economy if more govt employees “share the pain”. I agree with the others who suggested that “share the pain” might work if Congressionals, Staffers and the Administration ALL “share the pain” and this proposal isn’t limited to JUST the worker-bees. Who actually wins in this scenerio … the people who caused this crisis to begin with … not John Q. Public nor the economy. And BTW, $5.5B is a drop in the Feds proverbial deficit bucket … it won’t change anything in our economy nor will it create jobs.

jill herndon

Solidarity and sympathy are emotional points. But doesn’t this ignore the work that governments are doing to get our economy out of this mess? Or do we all work better with a 35 hour week anyway?


Makes sense to me that govt workers should share a tiny part ot the pain being felt by those in other sectors, given that our pay has dramatically outstripped private sector pay and that, arguably, what we produce in governmet acts more as a drag on the private sector than a help.

Cheryl Wahlheim

@Doris. I agree with you that everyone in government should share the pain, but we also aren’t allowed to give ourselves a raise like Congress does. EVERY $5.5 billion should be considered something! That kind of statement, that $5.5 billion is a drop in the bucket, is how we got ourselves in this mess of being several TRILLION in debt! Yikes!

Anna Abbey

The question shouldn’t be about “sharing the pain” or a sense of fairness. Like other organizations, the government should focus on what is best for a sustainable way out of the red. That might involve some things that are equally or more disliked than 2 weeks off without pay, like: firing underperforming workers, lowering pay levels, developing a merit based raise system, re-evaluating the use of contractors (and their subs), decreasing retirement benefits/health benefits/per diem costs/ etc. Of course it will be hard to get any of that through the Unions. Just as any real effective administrative reform will be hard to acomplish so long as the overriding motives are political and shifting from election to election.

jill herndon

Just re-read the line “sheltered from the realities of life in today’s economy” and got mad. Just what vacuum does the author of this bill think we live in? How many of us are supporting our siblings or communities or neighbors instead of living in some consumer spree the author of this bill seems to think is the culture we live in. How many children have moved home or not been able to leave. PFuuum.

Margaret Schneider Ross

Anna’s right that “sharing the pain” is really more of a symbolic gesture, and that $5.5 Billion won’t solve underlying problem. However, let’s not pretend that symbols and gestures don’t matter. They do.

This bill proposes a 10% pay cut for congress, as well. And I’ll admit it: even if it doesn’t get us out of the hole we’re in, I would love to see Congress “share the pain.” We’re human, and seeing others be willing to make a sacrifices in order to show support just gives me a little more faith that we’re all willing to do what it REALLY will take to get through this.

And Anna, you know I’m right there with you. (Well, except for the health benefits thing). We do need to work smarter. But I can work on that revolution even with 10 furlough days. 🙂

Michael Jacobson

Here’s an alternative view – King County WA last year instituted mandatory 2-week furloughs for workers. Although many of our employees were exempted (jail guards, wastewater treatment plant workers, bus drivers), there were some financial savings (although I think much less than anticipated). More significantly though were the unmeasured and unanticipated benefits of the furloughs. Although our unions generally opposed them and there were many grumblings heard, there were quite a few people that I spoke to who (although they didn’t like the salary impact) were in fact quite happy to step off the tread mill of work and have extra days to spend with family or just get out of dodge. Our furlough days were paired with holidays and weekends often giving us 4-day weekends! For those of you in stressful posiitons, or excempt from Fair Labor laws, being told you can’t work can be liberating. The differential labor impacts turned out to be a stumbling block in the end and in fact we have not repeated the furlough experience. But I have to say I kind of miss those extra “vacation” days away from the office, politics and the like.

Jerome P. Dion

Maybe Congress should mandate financial company CEO’s limit their pay? Oh yeah, been there, tried that, failed.

Perhaps the good Congressman could directly reduce Federal spending by eliminating the unneeded earmarks (aka “Congressionally Directed Spending”) that inflate the annual appropriations bills each year – much more than $5.5B in pork there! But, that might hurt them with their campaign contributions!

Unpaid furloughs probably wouldn’t hurt higher graded workers very hard, but the lower graded workers – those living paycheck to paycheck – would be hit hard. I know at least one that has gone through foreclosure. On second thought, even higher graded Feds are suffering in this economy with houses underwater, depleted Thrift Savings Plan accounts, and supporting unemployed/underemployed children – delaying retirement and extending by years the need to work. So the whole “share the pain” idea is pretty lame.

The notion that any group of people – save perhaps those with in excess of several million dollars in net worth – aren’t being affected by this economy is simply stupid.

R. Ann Abercrombie

OK, Maybe I’m a bit biased … I’m one of the “higher grade” feds that does live paycheck to paycheck because my husband has been unemployed for the past 3 years. Not for lack of trying to find a job, he’s tried. I think it would be fairly disasterous for my family for me to lose 2 weeks of pay. There has to be a better way

Jerome P. Dion

Ms. Abercrombie underlines the point a lot of people have made — the bad effects of this economy have not bypassed Federal employees, especially when considering each employees personal circumstances. For Congress to target the Federal workforce for an extra measure of pain is egregious political grandstanding.

Ginny Ivanoff

Ok, so Congress wants a philosophical feel good quick political win — nice that we are an easy target, but what makes Congress think that we Feds, as a rule, are not feeling the pain of this economy? I know of seveal employees whose spouses have lost their jobs and are unable find work. Since my transfer, I had to deal with the reality that the value of my house left behind in NC fell by about 45%…

Some of our lower grade employees do not a have month’s savings set aside (save the comments @ this for another post, for I do wish to discuss that!), and if we face up to a 30 day shutdown, the consequences for these workers will be dire.