Sequestration Tracker: Guide to agency furloughs

In the weeks leading up to March 1, agencies across government have painted increasingly dire pictures of life under sequestration. Along with hiring freezes...

In the weeks leading up to March 1, agencies across government have painted increasingly dire pictures of life under sequestration. Along with hiring freezes, spending reductions, and curtailed travel and training, many agencies are planning for furloughs.

Below, find out how agencies have said they’ll slash their budgets to comply with the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts.

Have more information about how agencies plan to implement furloughs and other cost-cutting measures? Or, do you have information about an agency not on this list? Click here to email us and let us know.

LAST UPDATED: Aug. 22, 2013

Agriculture Department

UPDATE: Officials at the Agriculture Department now say the agency does not expect furloughs of USDA employees this year. The Farm Service agency was able to avoid furloughs through a hiring freeze and cutting spending on operating expenses and contracts. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked Congress for the authority to shift funding from other budget accounts to avert furloughs in the Rural Development division. Earlier this year, in a fiscal 2013 appropriations bill, Congress approved funding to avert furloughs of employees in the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Commerce Department

The National Institute of Standards and Technology would face reductions in spending on grants, contracts, equipment procurement and would be forced to let positions go unfilled and to defer maintenance and repair of NIST facilities.

After initially planning for furloughs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Commerce announced Friday, May 31, that furloughs at the agency would be cancelled.

Customs and Border Protection

UPDATE: Customs and Border Protection officials have postponed the issuing of furlough notices to 60,000 employees because of new funding granted in the 2013 appropriations bill. The agency said it is now “reevaluating” the need for furloughs and the the planned elimination of administratively uncontrollable overtime, or AUO.

Defense Department

UPDATE: The Department of Defense cut the number of furlough days for its civilian employees from 11 days to six. For most of those DoD employees, their final day took place the first week of August.

DoD reduced the number of days it required its civilian workforce to be furloughed from 14 to 11 in July, and expanded its list of employees who are exempt from the cash-saving measure.

The agency originally had planned for 22 furlough days.

The military services and defense agencies have already instituted civilian hiring freezes and cut spending on travel, training and supplies.

Employees paid by non-appropriated funds were not expected to be furloughed. Other employees exempt from furloughs included: civilians deployed in combat zones, DoD civilians working on sexual-assault prevention, foreign nationals, Senate-confirmed political employees and civilians who are required to maintain safety of life or property. While military pay will be unaffected by sequestration, DoD said readiness and training would suffer.

Education Department

Education Department employees won’t deal with furloughs this year, according to a staff memo from Education Secretary Arne Duncan obtained by Education Week.

Environmental Protection Agency

UPDATE: The Environmental Protection Agency cut its last scheduled furlough day, Aug. 30.

Over two phases of furloughs, EPA employees were forced to take a total of 47 hours off. During phase one, EPA employees took 32 furlough hours. Phase two originally scheduled EPA employees to take 47 furlough hours off, but the agency reduced that number to 23. With this final elimination, EPA employees have been furloughed for about 15 hours during phase two.

EPA also put a hold on discretionary monetary awards for employees and other incentives, but the agency will be able to offer time off awards and quality step increases, albeit under a constrained budget.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

UPDATE: During Phase I of furloughs (April 22 to July 2) all 2,194 EEOC employees took five required furlough days. However, EEOC canceled round two of furloughs, which would have meant three more unpaid days off for feds at the agency.

Federal Aviation Administration

Update: Congress approved a bill April 26 that allows the agency to use funding originally slated for airport improvement to avert the furlough of air traffic controllers.


UPDATE: On April 24, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Justice would not need to furlough employees during the current fiscal year. He said the department was able to avoid furloughs thanks to money it received from recently enacted legislation combined with a hiring freeze and cuts to contracting and other costs.

Food and Drug Administration

UPDATE: The Food and Drug Administration says that it will not have to cut back on inspections of food-processing plants. Earlier this year, the agency estimated that as many as 2,100 plant inspections would need to be cancelled.

Government Accountability Office

Under sequestration, GAO would be forced to forego its hiring plans for a third year in a row. That would shrink GAO’s workforce to below 2,900 — a level it hasn’t seen since the 1930s, according to congressional testimony by Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. GAO would also be forced to cut funding for performance awards, travel, and IT enhancement programs. GAO says furloughs are last resort.

Government Printing Office

Public Printer Davita Vance-Cook told a House Appropriations subcommittee GPO is taking several steps to prepare for sequestration. GPO plans to implement freezes in a number of areas: hiring, overtime, bonuses, training, travel and nonessential maintenance. Employee furloughs would be a last resort, Vance-Cook told Congress. If furloughs are implemented, GPO would also reduce its contractor workforce as well, she said.

Health and Human Services Department

Because many HHS activities are carried out through grants that are typcially awarded toward the end of the fiscal year, HHS program managers are working with grantees and other partners to manage the cuts. All Medicare payments to service providers (with a few exceptions) are subject to a 2 percent cut. HHS has not issued any official furlough notices and the agency has not made any specific decisions about implementing furloughs in the future, according to an HHS spokeswoman.

Homeland Security Department

The Homeland Security Department “has examined every human resource tool available to reduce expenditures,” a spokeswoman told Federal News Radio. That includes hiring freezes, eliminated or reduced overtime and the elimination of employee performance awards. Furloughs may be necessary, the spokeswoman said, “absent reprogramming requests and to minimize impacts on core missions.”

Housing and Urban Development

UPDATE: On Aug. 9, the Department of Housing and Urban Development canceled its final two furlough days on Aug. 16 and 30.

In March, HUD announced it would furlough all 9,000 of its employees for seven days between May and August to offset automatic budget cuts due to sequestration. The original seven furlough dates were scheduled for May 10 and 24; June 14; July 5 and 22; and Aug. 16 and 30.

Interior Department

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said thousands of Interior employees would be furloughed, while thousands more seasonal workers would not be hired.

After taking three furlough days, the National Park Service announced May 24 that it was canceling the remaining furlough days for U.S. Park Police employees.

Internal Revenue Service

UPDATE: The Internal Revenue Service postponed its scheduled Aug. 30 furlough day.

“We have made substantial progress in cutting costs. … Our progress is such that we have decided to postpone the furlough day scheduled for Aug. 30. We still have more work to do on the budget and cost-savings, so we will reevaluate in early September and make a final determination as to whether we will need another furlough day in September,” Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said, in the email.

Thanks to cost-cutting measures, the agency already canceled the furlough day scheduled for July 22.

Back in April, IRS announced its plans to furlough all of its 90,000 employees on five specific furlough days through the end of August. The furlough days were originally scheduled for May 24, June 14, July 5, July 22 and Aug. 30.

Justice Department

UPDATE: On April 24, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Justice would not need to furlough employees during the current fiscal year. He said the department was able to avoid furloughs thanks to money it received from recently enacted legislation combined with a hiring freeze and cuts to contracting and other costs.

Earlier, Holder said would postpone until mid-April a decision about whether to furlough any Justice Department employees. In a memo to all employees, Holder says the department is still working on how best to deal with automatic budget cuts of $1.6 billion that became effective March 1. Earlier, Holder announced furloughs of federal prison staffers would be averted by moving $150 million from other Justice Department accounts.

Labor Department

Federal Times reported that 4,700 Labor Department employees received furlough notices on March 5. That accounts for approximately 28 percent of the agency’s total workforce. According to Acting Secretary Seth Harris, the department is reducing travel and training expenses. DoL has also halted performance awards and will curtail some contract spending. “But it is clear from the size of the sequester that not all agencies will be able to find the savings required,” Harris said. “These agencies will be forced to place staff on unpaid furloughs.”


Update: NASA does not plan to resort furloughs in the short term, a NASA spokesman told Federal News Radio. To comply with the budget cuts, NASA has reduced travel and conference attendance and has reviewed spending on education and public-outreach activities. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told lawmakers in recent budget hearings that NASA may have to consider furloughs if sequestration continues into fiscal 2014.


UPDATED: Furloughs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were cancelled Friday, May 31. Originally, all 12,000 of the agency’s employees, including feds at the National Weather Service, were to be furloughed for four days.

National Science Foundation

Director of the National Science Foundation Subra Suresh said NSF aims to protect “core principles” — such as the NSF workforce and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce development efforts.However, that means grant spending and research and development funding would suffer, he told the Senate Appropriations Committee. NSF would also likely terminate approximately $35 million in contracts. “This would directly lead to layoffs of dozens of direct scientific and technical staff, with larger impacts at supplier companies,” Suresh wrote in a letter to Congress.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it will not furlough staff because of sequestration nor will the cuts impact the agency’s safety mission. However, the agency will be forced to forego new grants to universities and would delay IT infrastructure upgrades.

Office of Management and Budget

The Office of Management and Budget reduced the number of its original 10 furlough days by two days. So far, OMB employees have taken seven furlough days. One additional furlough day is planned before Sept. 30 for OMB’s 480 employees. Furloughs started on April 21.

Office of Personnel Management

UPDATE: The Office of Personnel Management says sequestration cuts have forced the agency to curtail call-center hours and to suspend overtime hours for its Retirement Services employees. That could lead to further delays in OPM’s retirement-processing efforts.

Office of Personnel Management officials have, so far, made no plans to furlough employees. OPM has implemented a hiring freeze and will seek other operational and administrative cost reductions to avoid furloughs.

Small Business Administration

Employees at the Small Business Administration will likely be spared from sequestration furloughs, according to Karen Mills, the head of the agency. Mills said a round of early retirements allowed the agency to cut staff, negating the need for furloughs.

Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum complex, is prepared to absorb the sequestration cuts without furloughing employees or reducing hours at its facilities. The Smithsonian will freeze hiring and reduce training, research and travel. In addition, the Smithsonian will delay maintenance and new construction, and reduce its use of contractors.

Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration has instituted a hiring freeze, limited overtime, and reduced agency travel. Because of this, SSA hopes to avoid furloughs, Acting SSA Commissioner Carolyn Colvin said in a note to staff.

State Department

UPDATE: The State Department now says it will not need to furlough any employees this fiscal year due to sequestration. State’s share of the budget cuts — $400 million — ended up being less than half what original estimates called for. Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy has taken steps to curtail spending, including reducing travel and conference spending, filling only one of every two new job vacancies and adjusting building temperatures.

Transportation Department

Update: Congress approved a bill April 26 that allows the agency to use funding originally slated for airport improvement to avert the furlough of air traffic controllers.

Transportation Security Administration

UPDATE: TSA Deputy Administrator John W. Halinski told a House Oversight and Government Reform committee recently that TSA does not anticipate any furloughs. The agency reduced spending through “managed hiring practices and control of overtime,” Halinski told lawmakers.

Veterans Affairs Department

The Veterans Affairs Department is mostly exempt from sequestration. However, VA’s administrative costs will be subject to sequestration.

(Compiled by Jack Moore)

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