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Know your rights if you’re furloughed – Sequestration Deadline Approaching

The March 1st deadline for sequestration is only a week away. And agency managers are grappling with the very real possibility that they will be forced to furlough thousands of workers. The DoD has already announced that if a deal to avert sequestration is not passed, it will be forced to furlough 800,000 civilian workers.

So what can you do if you are furloughed?

John Mahoney is a partner at Tully Rinckey. He told Chris Dorobek how exactly furloughs work in government.

“Furlough is a period of non-pay status that’s either caused by an administrative lack of funds (sequestration) or running out of time on fiscal appropriations (government shutdown). This is the biggest potential furlough i’ve seen in 20 years,” said Mahoney.

What Feds Can Do:

  • You can submit a MSPB appeal
  • If feds are Union members they can file union grievances
  • If you believe the way the furloughs are being implemented are discriminatory or retaliatory they can file a complaint with the Office of Special Council

“Effectively Congress is trying to balance the budget on the backs of federal employees,” said Mahoney.

Cost of Appeals

“Frankly with the appeals feds have filed and the cost of those appeals both in terms of the defendant agency and the MSPB board each of these furlough appeals could cost the government upwards of $10,000. So furloughing employees is not a zero sum game. These things are going to cost not just the furloughed feds, but the government too,” said Mahoney.

Length of Furloughs

“Realistically we are looking at furloughs of 30 days or so for the next 7 months. Which means it will cost furloughed feds about 20% of their salary. Each federal agency is delegated by the authority of OPM to determine how best to implement furloughs. Whether that is one day a week, a few hours a week or an entire month, it’s up to the agency. So invariably people are going to feel like agencies are targeting their group. That feeling is going to lead to mass grievances,” said Mahoney.

Management

“I am sure the managers over at the DoD are puling their hair out trying to figure out how to furlough 800,000 people so that operations at the agency aren’t ground to a halt,” said Mahoney.

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16 Comments

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Profile Photo Randi Salkowitz

I find it interesting that everyone is focussing in on DOD. And yes, I will agree that Defense is a huge contributer of Federal Employees. But what about the other large agencies? I work for the IRS in Treasury. And even though we are not the most popular agency, I would be willing to bet that the majority of the tax paying public would not want to see a slow down of tax processing in the beginning of April due to employees being furloughed. We have a Congressionally mandated obligation to ensure the public receive their refunds timely, and how can we do that when Congress is preventing us from doing our jobs?

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Profile Photo Jeff Benjamin

What I find interesting is that we are talking about less than 2% of the total federal budget, and everyone is acting like this is Armageddon. When the payroll tax rolled back on Jan 1st, every single working American saw a 2% decrease in thier paychecks, can we not expect the federal government to be able to do the same thing. I do think it is regrettable that federal workers are being furloughed. I personally think it is a disgraceful lack of leadership by the executive agencies. They knew this day was coming and yet instead of making programmatic reductions, they chose the balance the books on the backs of their workforce. There common theme is that somehow congressional republicans are refusing to provide a balanced approach. The End of the year deal saw no only $800 billion is new taxes, but also the implementation of the Obama care taxes with some estimates of the new tab being in excess of $1.2 Trillion. Now there are those demanding more? What of the cuts? Anyone? No reductions in spending resulted from that agreement, and this so called disastrous legislation that asks the government to reduce the rate of spending increases, not even a true cut is so odious and insipid that it cannot be done? I for one do not think so. As for recourse? How about taking your agency leadership to task for their leadership failures. GAO even showed, not 3 years ago that the government was wasting over $120 billion a year on bad or fraudulant payments for medicare, medicaid, unemployement and a host of other programs. In addition, they found numerous examples of programs and agencies doing exactly the same thing or similar mission that could be combined or eliminated. How much action was taken on that? None. So here we are three years later complaining to the American people that we simply can’t cut. This is out fault. Our fault for allowing our leadership to get away with not doing thier job, our fault for alllowing the waste, fraud and abuse, and our fault for not doing a better job of policing our own agencies to find those savings. It will be a sad day to see the furloughs hit, but they were completely avoidable without congressional action.

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Profile Photo Cheryl L. Huckerby

Though I am DOD, I understand your contern. However due to OPM requirements, the furloughs won’t start taking affect untill after the tax deadline. Yes, that will slow down processing but depending upon how the IRS implements furloughs, it shouldn’t stop refunds from being. As a matter of fact, I am awaiting mine right now. Let’s all hope the folks on the hill can grow up and put the country first instead of their lobbists and those who provide their re-election fund.

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Profile Photo Eric M Hamilton

Jeff,

Aren’t government employees also subject to the payroll tax increase? Aren’t they paying 2% more in payroll taxes just like every other employee? I’m saying this because you said, “can we not expect the federal government to do the same thing.” Yes, we did–and now we’re being tapped again through the furlough approach. When you say “it’s our fault,” who exactly are you referring to? If it’s government workers you mean, then I have to disagree with you. If it’s “agency leadership” you want to take to task, how do you propose to do that? I agree that there may seem to be a significant amount of overlap or waste–but I doubt it’s responsible for this problem.

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Profile Photo Janina Rey Echols Harrison

Jeff, Your comments sound like a Fox soundbite. The bottom line is that no country can go to war and reduce taxes. There are too many people in this country who are paying nothing or close to it, individuals and corporations. Unless they are at poverty level, I don’t see any reason for anyone not paying. Everyone needs to pay their fair share.

There have been consolidations of duplicate efforts. Check you facts. Those things take time to implement.

The bottom line is that there was a surplus at one time and just like our personal check books it is always better to have some funds in the bank instead of being in the red. Instead our elected officials made decisions that were not good for our country. When it headed downhill, they then started pointing fingers at others and kicking the can down the road rather than upset all those they were making rich (which I am pretty sure includes themselves).

The economy IS being balanced on the back of federal worker’s. I see elected officials as wanting to get rid of Feds because then they can further fill the pockets of their ‘real’ constituents by out sourcing and fat contracts for their cronies.

Sequester will tank our nation because the cuts will have a ripple effect on the economy. We will see more layoffs, more foreclosures and businesses folding. And, many will probably have to wait for those tax returns. My biggest worry is the cuts to DoD and the effects on our troops overseas. Completely irresponsible to do this in the middle of war. It is just one ill gotten thought on top of another and our officials don’t seem to be able to stop the folly.

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Profile Photo Jeff Benjamin

Fox soundbite…nice comment. But the matter remains is our problem is one of spending. I agree, cutting taxes and fighting two wars was not the smartest idea, but lets put some persepctive on that spending. In the 6+ years under the previous administration, the deficit did go up. I didn’t agree with it then and I still do not. But is the answer to put that policy in overdrive as the current administration did over the last four years? And for the record, the majority of those taxes were repealed Jan 1st, net result, about 8 days of current government operations are not coming in that were not. We cannot afford to spend more than $1.5 Trillion in borrowed money. I hardly think the economy and the budget is being balanced on the back of federal workers. Again, the sequestration amounts to a little less than 2% of the budget. What is being done is that the agencies and the administration are playing politics with the Federal workforce. I gaurantee any mindless fool could find a 2% reduction in spending from the federal budget. I mean the Feds are still going to spend over $3.5 Trillion dollars this year. Instead, they scream furloughs are the only answer, why, because it sells in the press. Why furlough everyone? Why not simply layoff the bottom 10% performers within the agency. That is how most business respond to a reduction in revenue, which this isn’t. Or, if we are so firm in our beleifs there is no further economy is reducing the workforce, how about we simply say all programs, we are reducing your payments and budgets by 2 cents for every dollar? Because that is what we are really talking about, a very insignificant amount. If I thought for one moment that our government was even 70% efficient in running programs, I would probably have more sympathy, but the fact of the matter is that there is so much waste, fraud and abuse throughout all programs, that a 2% is barely a blip. I have checked my facts.. But these are not my facts, these are from the Government Accountability Office, the non-partisan organization that we all report to. These are not made up numbers, or FOX news sound bites, these are reports from our own government.

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Profile Photo Randi Salkowitz

Jeff – I have one question for you, since you seem to know all the answers. If your place of business needed to balance the books, would you willingly stay home one day a week – WITHOUT being paid – to help them do so? Mind you, there will be no reduction in the amount of work expected of you, or change to the deadlines for your projects. Oh and while we are at, all of your employees will also be staying home one day a week, too.

I’m just curious if non-Feds are willing to make this kind of sacrifice since this “2%” is not such a big deal. My deadlines are mandated by Congress. Are yours?

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Profile Photo Jeff Benjamin

Randi, I will be honest. I would be mad as all get out. After 24 years of federal service, I am well aware of the hard work and sacrifices that are made on a daily basis. I am also far too famillier with the years without pay increases, etc… Let’s look at your question in depth. Unemployment, real unemployement is around 14-15% right now across the country. Some states doing better than others. Those folks that are out of work are out of work largely for one reason, cut backs in the private sector. Companies have to make these calls all the time. It is a fact of doing business, if there is not enough revenue to cover the expenses, the expenses have to be reduced. They don’t get to go out to some governning body and demand more revenue, they either earn the business or the cut expenses.

I spent the last three years under a hiring freeze with more than 30% of my staff vacant. What I found out was that yes it was painful, but we found a number of efficiencies and were still able to meet the mission. It took a lot of creative thinking, hard work, and the understanding is that unimportant, or small things often had to go unexecuted, but the office managed to meet its overall mission pretty well. So I get a chuckle at at the hand wringing and gnashing of teeth when people speak of a 2% reduction.

To fully answer your question, I would hate to be furloughed. I don’t begrudge a single federal employee being angry at the situation. They are real people with real life issues. My point is that the decision to furlough is largely one of politics not of necessity. There are hundreds if not thousands of different ways that the agencies could cut expenses over the last two years, but they chose furloughs because of how it futhers the agenda. Do you realize that this 2% cut is not actually a cut at all, but simply a reduction in the rate of increase. Ask yourself how your agency budgets? Do they really look at expenses or do they simply take last years budget and increase it by 2-3%? Most federal budgeting is about growing the program, not improving the delivery of services.

Personnaly, I think it is disgraceful how the politicians are playing this out, but that being said, the agency directors all have discretion on how to find the money, they all decided it was easier to make the federal workers stay home rather than cut program costs and offend consituatants of the ruling party. On the other side, they don’t care because they can say to thier constituancy that “we really made some cuts, those inefficient federal workers really had to cut back.” Neither case is accurate though. There could be a 2% cut to the budget, and everyone on medicare, medicaid, SS, pensions, etc.. would never even notice. Like I said, if we simply fixed the $120 billion a year in bad payments, fraud, and waste to those programs, it would have paid for itself 3 times over in the last two years with zero furloughs and no cuts.

In reality, when it is all said and done, it will likely play out like the last furlough, everyone got back pay. So essentially, extra vacation time. But it will likely never address the true problem.

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Profile Photo Cheryl L. Huckerby

Jeff, I don’t believe people or federal employees in particular are bothered about the 2%, It is the 20% pay cut and the way this is all coming about. Fed employees in many agencies have been involved with streamlining processes and in the last two years, without an increase on our budgets because we have been working under continuing resolutions. Our budget is frozen at 2010 dollars so what increase there? The shinanagans going on are simply because certain people want to say they cut the budget now and can’t wait to implement properly reviewed and revised processes. You may be able to balance your personal budget in a month by cutting out the maid, gardner and not going to the movies every week but that approach doesn’t work when you have to follow OPM rules or Federal Acquisition rules to reduce or terminate contracts for example. Let’s get real and realize why we are all going to lose pay: because people who will not lose their pay don’t care if we do. And as for back pay, there are no guarantees there, especially in this climate so why should we relax and look at it as a paid holiday? At least in the past we could look for other jobs because the market hadn’t tanked but this time we just have to hang in there and hope in the long run we will have jobs to come back to. Who knows, maybe when they see the gov doesn’t fall apart without 90% of its fed workers they will make the cut permanent. Or does the hill and the directors have a stomach for a real RIF?

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Profile Photo Jeff Benjamin

Cheryl, I realize that not all budgets have seen increases in the last few years, but you cannot argue that federal spending has sky-rocketed. I too suffered through the last several years without an approved budget, funding levels stuck at 2010, a hiring freeze, and continuing resolution. I wholeheartedly agree that it is wrong for the President and Congress to allow this to happen, but again, I place the blame on the agencies and thier leadership. This was no surprise. Yes OPM and FAR place constraints on what can be done, but that does not make doing what is necessary impossible. Some agencies it is easier than others. But again, I am not talking about the everyday mission stuff, I am talking about the waste. Making improper payments for medicare, medicaid, etc… Multiple agencies doing the same thing. Those are things that can be fixed in a reasonable amount of time, yet have not been done. That is why I am furious. This whole mess is not necessary, if our leadership had focused more on eleminating waste than trying to preserve budgets.

You are correct, there is no gaurantee of backbay. It would be foolish to expect it, eventhough the track record indicates otherwise. I would doubt much stomache for a real RIF, but you are right in thinking the Government will not fall apart.

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Profile Photo John Evans

There are many factually incorrect statements being made. First, annual tax extenders package passed Jan. 2nd, did NOT “repeal ” the “majority of those taxes “. Second, most agencies do NOT have discretion as to how to implement the sequester-it a stupid, meat-axe, across-the-board cut, and and furloughs must, BY LAW, be implemented fairly. It is simply NOT possible to move funding from one account to another without Congressional approval for most agencies, and discriminatory furloughs are illegal. Also, government is not, and cannot be run like a business. This is simplistic thinking at it’s worst. And, anyone who thinks furloughs at IRS in April won’t slow issuance of refunds is woefully uninformed-it most definitely will. If you think it’s hard to get someone on the phone, or wait times at Taxpayer Assistance Centers are too long (well over an hour at most TACs), just wait until furloughs take effect. IRS has 5000 FEWER employees this filing season than we had last year. As for the “waste, fraud and abuse” claims partisan ideologues love to make,when subjected to impartial analysis, the majority of these claims cannot be substantiated. Simplistic thinking is never of much utility, and the sequester is no exception.

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Profile Photo Victor Huot

“Furlough is a period of non-pay status that’s either caused by an administrative lack of fund (sequestration) or running out of time on fiscal appropriations (government shutdown).

BS!!!

Sequestration and Furloughs are occurring because the elected officials in Washington DC can’t do their jobs and work as a team! When one party or person walks into a meeting and says “such and such is off the table” the meeting is already a lost cause.

The furloughs should affect those morons who cannot work together i.e. the elected officials. I don’t care what party they belong to.

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Profile Photo Janina Rey Echols Harrison

Well, this discussion did get fun. We can’t continue to not collect sufficient revenue and continue to be involved in war and expect to get out of this situation. Sequester won’t get more revenue or get us out of war, the people who are being sacrificed didn’t get us here.Yes there is waste and fraud, but I haven’t seen a lot where I am. You can’t just have one president get us into a war and when the next president comes in, he says, OK We are done. It would certainly be nice.
The question I pose is, will higher level personnel have to furlough as well as all us peons? or maybe some of you are not peons like myself and can answer that. Will you also take furlough or will it be on the backs of those who can least afford it as so many of the cuts that will happen in this rediculous program?

How sad is it that our politicians have paid so little attention to what other countries have tried and what has failed, so they take us down that failed road. Yes, we will probably survive, Russia collapsed and they are fine. Right? Greece is fine. Right? Austerity measures have not worked anyplace else. We were recovering, slowly, but not continuing to tank completely.

It is folly.

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Profile Photo Victor Huot

Janina, Good points brought out by you and voiced by others as well. I am just below management level and yes, I will be furloughed if and when it takes place. It will hit those least able to take the hit and not those who can’t make a decision or come to consensus (politicians).

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Profile Photo Victor Huot

I see now that the Prez wants to meet with elected officials on Friday, AFTER the start of sequestration. The Prez and the elected officials have lost their way. Thier personal interest and electability have been put before the good of this country, a country I defended for over 20 years. Elected officials could once hide behind retoric and not show this side of them previously but now it is out for all to see.

What I am trying to say is that the elected officials should have been in a room daily over the past few weeks hammering this out. This president (if you want to call him one) has not been in a room leading, LEADING this debate. He’s been out pointing fingers around the country.

I learned along time ago that a good/great leader leads from the rear because his folks have been trained to do their jobs and the leader can relax, but when the personnel lose sight of their jobs and or cannot function as a team, the LEADER stands out front and works things out, not go around the country playing the blame game all for his glory.

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