Most major government departments have reduced their furlough days or eliminated them altogether, finding other methods to meet mandatory budget cutbacks ordered when sequestration kicked in March 1.
As a result, Government Executive magazine reports
that the automatic spending cuts have not turned out to be quite the disaster the White House predicted.
The magazine reported this week that the departments of Education and Justice have backtracked on furloughs, which they initially told Congress they would have to implement. In addition, other government departments, including Agriculture, Transportation, and Homeland Security, were able to transfer funds between accounts and cancel their employee furlough plans.
A spokesman for Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the ranking member of the committee that oversees the federal workforce, said Tuesday the White House was politically motivated just after sequestration to issue dire warnings about the effects deep budget cuts and furloughing workers would have on government operations. But none of the predictions have come true, he added.
"The administration previewed a parade of horribles that hasn’t happened," Coburn spokesman John Hart told Government Executive. "We’ve also seen that where there is flexibility there is fat. In other words, [agencies’] ability to be flexible demonstrates that there is plenty of waste and fat in the budget that can be cut before cutting vital services or furloughing employees."
Furloughs of civilian employees have taken place at the Defense Department, but not the 750,000 that were supposed to have been laid off without pay for up to 22 days. According to the magazine, the Pentagon was able to reprogram some funding and implement cost-cutting measures to reduce to reduce the furlough days to six at most. Also, 100,000 fewer civilian workers than first predicted will have take unpaid leave as a result of the sequester.
The Treasury Department likewise was able to cut its furlough days from five to three, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development canceled two furlough days, while the Environmental Protection Agency cancelled three.
In addition, the Interior Department cuts its estimated 12-to-14-day furloughs by fewer than half. Government Executive also reported that the Department of Health and Human Services did not required its employees to take unpaid leave.
Jacqueline Simon, public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, attributed the furlough reductions and cancellations in part to negotiations between the union and department officials.
"We showed the agencies there were numerous alternatives to dealing with sequestration," she told the magazine. "It was across the board and our union responded in every one of these situations."
She termed the government's initially high estimates of furloughs and other cuts as a "political calculation," suggesting that federal employees were used in an effort to force Congress into taking action to stop the automatic cuts.
"The administration wrongfully assumed Congress would act," Simon said. "Congress didn’t act. They didn’t care."
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