Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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115,000 get 4-day holiday weekend

Sequester brings time with no pay


FILE - This March 22, 2013 file photo shows the exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington. No one answered the phone at the IRS hotline for tax help. Forget about advice on avoiding foreclosures at one of the Housing and Urban Development offices nationwide. Roughly five percent of the federal workforce _ 115,000 people at six government agencies _ got an unpaid day off on Friday due to the automatic cuts to the government budget. The furloughs forced some agencies such as the IRS and HUD to drastically scale back operations. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)


WASHINGTON — No one answered the tax-help hot line at the IRS on Friday. And forget about getting advice on avoiding foreclosures at the 80 Housing and Urban Development field offices nationwide.

It was “furlough Friday.”

Roughly 115,000 people at six major agencies were told not to show up as the government dealt with the continuing effects of the sequester spending cuts.

The good news for many federal workers: a four-day Memorial Day weekend.

The bad news: no pay for the day.

The across-the-board budget reductions, the result of Washington’s failure to work out another long-term, deficit-cutting plan in November, 2011, essentially shut down some government agencies, though it had a negligible impact on others.

The IRS, embroiled in a scandal over agents targeting Tea Party groups, got a day of quiet.

IRS offices were closed with more than 90,000 employees furloughed Friday, one of five days the agency plans to shut down this year to save money.

HUD furloughed nearly its entire staff of more than 8,400 employees, closed the agency’s headquarters in Washington, and shut down about 80 field offices.

That meant no walk-in housing counseling services at HUD offices to help people wanting to buy homes, refinance, or avoid foreclosure.

The furlough affects about 5 percent of the federal work force, according to Cory Bythrow, communications director at the National Federation of Federal Employees, a union representing government workers.

Mr. Bythrow tracks workplace fallout from the sequestration budget cuts.

Eighty-five percent of the workers furloughed Friday are based outside Washington, Mr. Bythrow said. They include union and nonunion employees, he said.

At the Labor Department, spokesman Elizabeth Alexander said 437 employees out of about 16,500 were furloughed. She said the layoffs were negotiated between supervisors and employees to have the least possible impact on the agency’s operations.

Furloughs also hit the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Interior Department.

J. David Cox, Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, dismissed any suggestion that the extra day was welcome news to anyone.

“‘Furlough Friday’ is a disgrace to our nation,” Mr. Cox said. “Let no one believe for a moment that this is some kind of four-day weekend or holiday for federal employees forced out of work without pay.”

He called it “a day of shame for the lawmakers and administration officials who allowed sequester and furloughs to occur.”

The automatic cuts that kicked in March 1 have had a disparate effect on individual agencies and their workers.

The State Department, for example, says it can handle a $400 million cut without forcing employees to take unpaid leave. The Pentagon, on the other hand, decided to furlough about 680,000 civilian employees for 11 days through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

President Obama has pressed Congress to reverse the automatic cuts, but many Republicans have shown little inclination to do so.

Lawmakers see the broad reductions, recently estimated at $81 billion, as a surefire way to trim the federal deficit despite the outcry from defense hawks in Congress that the military cuts are too painful.

Congress did step in last month to undo furloughs for air traffic controllers after a week of coast-to-coast flight delays, and lawmakers have found money for meat inspectors.

The furloughs have frustrated many government employees facing several days without pay.

In addition to Friday, the IRS plans to close its offices and furlough employees on June 14, July 5, July 22, and Aug. 30. The agency said no tax returns will be processed on those days.

The Interior Department said more than 13,000 people were being furloughed, including all 767 employees of the U.S. Park Police. The furloughs had been expected to continue through the summer tourist season but will now end June 1, the National Park Service said Friday.

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