some 2.1 million federal employees could be furloughed if congress does not act
Federal workers could start facing furloughs as early as April, according to federal agencies trying to prepare for the worst.
Unless Congress steps in, some $85 billion in massive spending reductions will hit the federal government, doling out furloughs to much of the nation's 2.1 million federal workforce, experts say.
The cuts coming as a part of the "sequester" will end up carving some 9% from non-defense programs and 13% from defense programs, because the cuts take place over 7 months instead of 12. They're part of a larger effort to trim $1.2 trillion from federal deficits over ten years.
Daniel Werfel, a controller for the Office of Management and Budget, told a Senate panel Thursday that furloughs won't happen until after agencies negotiate with unions, and that's not expected to be finished until after March 1.
After union bargaining, the agencies still need to give employees their official 30 days notice of impending furloughs, realistically pushing most furloughs off until April at the earliest.
While they can't stop the furloughs, unions have the final say on how the furloughs will be implemented, said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). She said they get to bargain with federal agencies on issues such as how the furloughed days will be spread out.
The unions will also work with agencies to ensure that things such as performance reviews don't reflect work left incomplete due to furloughs.
"We believe that one furlough day is one too many for employees," said Kelley, whose group is among those pushing Congress to come up with an alternative to federal budget cuts.
Neither NTEU nor National Federation of Federal Employees have been approached to officially begin the bargaining process over furloughs, both confirmed.
At Thursday's hearing, Werfel said agencies might not be able to avoid furloughs that would reduce essential services. At the Agriculture Department, for example, it's not possible to avoid furloughs that would result in fewer food inspections, because most of the agency's expenses are the salaries and benefits of people who perform those tasks.