Federal agencies are bracing for across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester that could go into place on Friday if Congress doesn't agree on an alternative. While some agencies discuss how to absorb the cuts without resorting to furloughs, one agency is expressing concern with how it will deal with an overload of furlough appeals. Tom Shoop, Editor-in-Chief at Government Executive spoke with Morning Edition host Matt Bush to talk about this tricky situation.
On what agencies could resort to furloughs: "A whole range of agencies could resort to furloughs. The largest is the Defense Department, which has already said that more than 700,000 employees could be subject to furlough. Across the domestic side of government, there were many, many agencies that would be affected, several of which have already said they would have furloughs of up to 14 days."
On which agencies have ruled out furloughs: "The Small Business Administration, the Government Accountability Office have said they won't need them. There are other agencies that would not be nearly as affected, because they are mostly funded by user fees rather than appropriations. Those include agencies like the Postal Service and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau."
On whether the government could deal with furlough appeals: "That's going to be a real trick. Those appeals would go to the Merit Systems Protection Board, and every employee who is subject to furlough can appeal that furlough decision... It's unclear now how many there might be, it depends how many employees are affected. But MSPB itself would be subject to furlough, so it would have less capacity than normal to deal with appeals as well."
On how Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) call for hiring freezes to avoid furloughs would work: "Agencies have some flexibility in terms of how they implement cuts in personnel costs. So in some, they have already said by doing a hiring freeze or slowing down on new hires, that they would be able to absorb the new cuts without resorting to furloughs. That's what Sen. Coburn is saying, that they should be more widespread. That may not work out in all instances, however, because some agencies have so much of their costs tied up in personnel that they would almost have to resort to furloughs."
On whether widespread furloughs are inevitable, as the White House has claimed: "If it does go into effect for an extended period of time, the furloughs will in all likelihood be fairly widespread. If it's more limited, the effects could be much less. For instance, if this only goes into effect for a month while they work toward a broader budget deal, there's a 30-day period in which agencies have to negotiate with labor unions over implementing furloughs and give warnings to employees, so it wouldn't be until April at some point when furloughs would kick in."