Bloomberg News

Sequestration Squeeze Hits White House Staff With Job Furloughs

May 02, 2013

President Barack Obama began experiencing first-hand the effects of across-the-board federal spending cuts as the first wave of White House furloughs kicked in yesterday.

The $85 billion in cuts known as sequestration hit White House staffers with day-long furloughs scattered throughout the next two weeks.

All staff classified as non-commissioned will miss one work day without salary during May’s first pay period while commissioned officers who, as assistants to the president don’t qualify as leave-earners, will have to take a pay cut commensurate with the planned furlough, spokesman Jay Carney said.

“It affects everyone in the White House,” Carney told reporters at yesterday’s daily briefing.

Administration officials said about 468 people work at the White House, though they cited for that figure a payroll report from July 2012 -- which doesn’t reflect turnover in the administration -- and declined to provide updated numbers.

Approximately 25 percent of the staff was listed as an assistant to the president, special assistant to the president or deputy assistant to the president, the report showed.

Commissioned officers include Carney, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling. Most of their support staff will be furloughed and on those days won’t be permitted to come into their offices or do any work from home, including checking e- mail.

Furlough Impact

While departments are staggering the furloughs to minimize disruption, the absence of personnel will hurt senior advisers more than the pay cut, said Keith Hennessey, former director of the National Economic Council under President George W. Bush.

“You need those junior staff to be there to make things happen, to make the White House work,” said Hennessey. “The structure relies very heavily on non-commissioned staff to make the trains run on time. With them being down, it will just make everyone’s job a lot harder.”

According to the Office of Personnel Management’s 50-page Guidance for Administrative Furloughs, employees aren’t permitted even to volunteer to do their jobs without pay during any of the hours or days designated as furlough time off.

“Unless otherwise authorized by law, an agency may not accept the voluntary services of an employee,” rules state.

Air Travel

Obama warned for weeks before the cuts went into effect on March 1 that sequestration would be a “self-inflicted wound” to the economy. He forecast disruptions to air travel due to cutbacks at the Federal Aviation Administration, and said the spending reductions would throw 70,000 children off the Head Start program and eliminate 4 million meals for seniors.

Last week, after furloughs of air-traffic controllers forced delays at the nation’s largest airports and provoked anger from travelers and the airline industry, Congress voted to allow the FAA to move as much as $253 million within its budget to avoid further employment disruptions. Lawmakers didn’t address the cuts in other programs.

Obama, at an April 30 news conference, said the spending cuts were hurting the economy and U.S. workers. Still, he indicated sequestration would continue unless Republicans in Congress agree to replaces the across-the-board spending cuts with a long-range fiscal deal that includes raising government revenues and cutting entitlement programs.

“It’s slowed our growth,” Obama said of sequestration. “It’s resulting in people being thrown out at work. And, it’s hurting folks all across the country.”

Law’s Requirement

The law requires the executive office of the president, with about 2,000 employees, to cut approximately $24 million from its $711 million fiscal year 2013 budget request, according to a report by the White House Office of Management and Budget released the day the reductions took effect.

That amount pales in comparison with cuts mandated for other departments: Customs and Border Protection, for example, must trim $512 million and the National Institutes of Health stand to lose nearly $1.6 billion by the end of the fiscal year.

There are 11 parts of the Executive Office of the President, and the White House Office is among 4 components that have sent furlough notices to their staff. The others are the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality.

Each division has a separate budget and has been managing sequester cuts in a variety of ways including pay cuts, hiring slow-downs, scaling-back supplies and equipment purchases, curtailing staff travel and reducing the use of air cards and subscriptions, an administration official said.

The next furlough period for White House staff hasn’t been set, said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julianna Goldman in Washington at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net


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