The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Politics

March 29, 2013

Furlough terrain uneven for federal workers



By Lisa Rein

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Every U.S. Park Police officer will be off the job for 14 days — but the national parks they patrol will be staffed. The Department of Housing and Urban Development will shut down for seven days starting in May, after concluding that staggering furloughs for 9,000 employees would create too much paperwork.

Customs and Border Protection agents are waiting to hear whether the 14 unpaid days they were told to expect will disappear as they did for meat inspectors and federal prison staff members. And the Pentagon announced Thursday that it would cut its planned furlough days from 22 to 14.

This is the uncertain and uneven landscape of the furloughs that in less than three weeks will begin to affect more than half of the nation's 2 million federal employees.

The budget ax was supposed to fall across the board but hardly does so, federal workers are learning. And the situation is quickly splitting the workforce into haves and have-nots, inflaming labor-management tensions and straining agency resources as everyone struggles through the details.

Some agencies are benefiting from exceptions Congress carved out in its stopgap plan to keep the government going through Sept. 30. Lawmakers gave other agencies, including the Defense Department, authority to move money around. This allowed the Pentagon to offer a bit of relief to its 750,000 civilians.

Meanwhile, other employees wait to learn their fates as managers fine-tune plans or complete their bargaining with unions.

And late Thursday, as if to put a fine point on it all, more than 100,000 Justice Department employees learned that they will have to wait until mid-April to find out whether they will be furloughed. They had been told in February to expect 14 unpaid days. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., noting that workers "may be anxious" about lost pay, said Thursday that he needed time to assess the stopgap budget. The Justice Department last Friday eliminated furloughs for more than 3,500 prison staffers.

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