The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 29, 2013

Furlough terrain uneven for federal workers


There will be no furloughs for employees working in labor statistics, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Wage and Hour Division, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

This patchwork is largely because Labor has more than 20 sources of funding, including industry-paid fees and fines. The sequestration law does not allow managers to reassign money from one department to allow another to cancel its furlough days.

Besides offering some exceptions to the rigid sequester rules, Congress boosted the Agriculture Department's food safety service treasury by $55 million, enough to eliminate furloughs for 10,000 meat inspectors. Their potential absence from assembly lines had prompted a sustained campaign by the meat lobby and Secretary Tom Vilsack to spare them on the grounds that a vital industry would be decimated.

The Federal Aviation Administration didn't make out as well, despite efforts by several lawmakers. Its 14 days of furloughs will proceed. The union representing air-traffic controllers says it will continue its campaign to warn the public that the absences will compromise air safety.

Customs and Border Protection agents are hoping to meet the same fate as meat inspectors and prison staffers after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared that the nation would be "less safe" if they are furloughed.

The agency told union leaders this week that it may forgo furloughs but continue with plans to cut most overtime for Border Protection agents, labor officials said. The agents oppose any overtime reductions.

"They're going to shape the message and look like they're doing something about the budget cuts if they eliminate furloughs," said Shawn Moran of the National Border Protection Council. He said furloughs would hurt border security less than the loss of overtime pay.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that Customs and Border Protection officials are "working diligently to analyze" the stopgap budget and come up with a plan that minimizes the sequester's impact.

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