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The Sequester Furloughs Fizzle

Wednesday August 14th, 2013   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 7:04am PDT   •  

Closed-sign-366x244w Back in February, President Obama and many of his appointed officials tried to make a federal case out of looming budget cuts required by the budget control deal he cut back in the summer of 2011 during the debt ceiling crisis. Spending cuts that he proposed, which were called the “sequester”.

We’ve been saying for months, even before the first dollar of spending was cut, that these spending cuts were going to be a big yawn. That they weren’t really scary at all, and that the biggest portion of the spending cuts that were aimed at defense spending, which accounts for half of all the sequester budget cuts, wasn’t such a big deal.

And we weren’t the only ones who noticed that the President’s hysterical claims fell far short of reality.

In fact, the only thing that we really could really complain about was the proposition that the federal government’s bureaucrats were going to use the unpaid furloughs that were supposedly going to devastate their livelihoods to give themselves a number of extra three and four day weekends to enjoy with their families over the summer.

It turns out that we have less to complain about than we expected. Eric Katz of Government Executive reports (emphasis ours):

When sequestration was about to kick in, the Obama administration began a nearly across-the-board campaign to discuss the devastating impact the automatic cuts would have on agency operations.

At the center of these warnings stood employee furloughs: mandatory unpaid leave to help each department meet the lower budget caps that took effect March 1. Furloughs, combined with hiring freezes, would disrupt the proper functioning of government, agency chiefs said, as fewer employees working fewer hours could not accomplish the same amount as a fully staffed workforce.

While many federal agencies have in fact moved forward with furloughs, and there remain countless examples of sequestration interfering with government operations, most major departments have reduced furlough days, or eliminated them altogether.

It turned out to not be such a big deal because most federal agencies found they had the flexibility to reduce other non-essential spending, which offset the need to furlough federal government employees to satisfy the required spending reductions.

And believe it or not, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a union representing many of the government’s employees, helped identify many of the alternative reductions in spending that avoided reducing their members’ take home pay.

In fact, one of the AFGE’s spokespeople commented upon why the claimed huge impact of the sequester’s never materialized:

The American Federation of Government Employees attributes the furlough reductions and cancellations partly to the success of its negotiations.

“We showed the agencies there were numerous alternatives to dealing with sequestration,” said Jacqueline Simon, public policy director at AFGE. “It was across the board and our union responded in every one of these situations.”

Simon added the bloated estimates were a “political calculation,” with federal employees dangled as sacrificial lambs to demonstrate to Congress the potential fallout from sequestration.

An aide to Senator Tom Coburn had the final word in the article on why the “scary” sequester furloughs fizzled so badly:

“The administration previewed a parade of horribles that hasn’t happened,” said Coburn spokesman John Hart. “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.”

The evidence suggests though that given a choice between cutting vital services or furloughing employees, the federal government’s bureaucrats will always come down in favor of the option that favors the bureaucrats, and if the AFGE spokesperson’s comments are any indication, they’re too self-interested to put the interests of ordinary Americans ahead of their own. Even if this time, that self interest helped undermine the Obama administration’s claims that disaster would result from the sequester budget cuts.

Featured Image:
Pennsylvania Attorney General

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August 2013