Supercommittee fails: What's next for feds?


Federal employees might naturally worry about sequestration, the across-the-board discretionary spending cuts triggered when the special Congressional committee set up to find more deliberately-chosen cuts gave up hope of reaching agreement.

The failure muddles the picture for feds, who have already been the target of some budget-cutting measures, including a two-year pay freeze imposed earlier this year. 

The so-called supercommittee called it quits Nov. 21 after two months of trying to agree on a plan that would cut $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit. Disagreement on the size and makeup of tax increases and spending cuts have been blamed as the main reason that led to the panel’s defeat.

“After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline,” the committee’s co-chairmen, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wa.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling R-Texas), said in a statement.

The failure to reach a deal will now trigger a process called sequestration -- automatic spending cuts across defense and domestic programs, including Medicare, with the start of January 2013.

Disappointment over the supercommittee’s failure reverberated throughout Washington, from the highest echelons of the executive branch to organizations that represent the interests of the federal workforce. President Barack Obama said the Republicans’ refusal to compromise was “the main stumbling block” that prevented Congress from reaching a deal to further slash the deficit. After the supercommittee announced it had failed, some lawmakers began immediately working on legislation to modify the sequestration process.

The president also vowed he would veto any effort to get rid of the automatic spending cuts, and urged both sides of Congress to find a middle ground.

“The only way these spending cuts will not take place is if Congress gets back to work and agrees on a balanced plan to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion,” he said. “That’s exactly what they need to do. That’s the job they promised to do. And they've still got a year to figure it out.”

The sweeping spending cuts to agency budgets will not only affect federal employees but all Americans, Patricia Niehaus, president of the Federal Managers Association National, said in a statement.
“There is no doubt that if the sequestration process moves forward as intended, not only will federal employees be facing the prospect of furloughs and layoffs, but the taxpayers who rely on needed government services will be left without anywhere to turn,” she said.

John Palguta, vice president of policy at the Partnership for Public Service, said he believed the sequestration process would be modified because research has shown that across-the-board cuts throughout government rarely work well.

“With across-the-board cuts, I can assure you, there will be unintended consequences and unacceptable outcomes,” he warned.

Issues such as extended pay freezes and reduced benefits for federal employees could potentially be brought to the table under the sequestration process, Palguta said. But if cuts such as those were imposed, federal employees should be careful not to react too fast, without knowing the full details of the new circumstances, he added.

“If something looks like it’s about to be imposed, make sure you understand exactly what’s entailed,” Palguta said. “If someone is thinking now it’s the time to leave government, I wouldn’t jump ship prematurely. There will be plenty of advance notice – it’s not going to be happening next week.  You’ll have plenty of notice, and you’ll have a chance to adjust your personal plans accordingly.”

The tougher part for agencies will not be what will happen in terms of payer benefits but changes to the work environment, he said. In some organizations, workload will increase without the extra resources that are needed. A slowdown in hiring or no hiring at all are also possible drawbacks under the sequestration process.

“Those are going to be the hardest parts for an agency to deal with because despite what is the public perception, most federal employees are working very hard right now and there is not a whole lot of free time to slack,” Palguta said.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Tue, Nov 29, 2011 govman hon, hi

these are the folks you want running your health care. aloha

Mon, Nov 28, 2011

With an increased level of privledge comes an increased level of responsibility. Each member of the Super Committee was entrusted with the power and support of their fellow members of congress as well as their constituents to show leadership. They failed miserably. As a result, they should either resign their seat or be impeached for not fulfilling their constitutional responsibility. Enough of these political games. This country needs leadership and it is missing in a big way.

Mon, Nov 28, 2011

Need to get rid of the mentality that government can create viable jobs to improve the economy. Government spends money from the budget and very few agencies actual make money so lets rid ourselves of this notion that government spending is going to create long term jobs. It's a notion that has led us to where we are now.

Mon, Nov 28, 2011 jmg San Diego

I'm getting pretty tired of the one-sided portrayal of the failure of the supercommittee to do its job. There were two parties represented on the committee as well as influence from the Administration through the Senate majority leader. Our real problem is over TEN trillion dollars, getting worse every year, and this inability to come up with cuts without additional revenues only shows that Washington doesn't get it.

Wed, Nov 23, 2011 Erica E Street

What's next? Pure and simple.. the loss of 600,000 federal employee, contractor and supplier jobs. The biggest locale impacted will be Washington DC metro, followed by Norfolk VA (loss of a Aircfat Carrier group), followed by a large number of Red states who will have their weapons plants closed or slowed. Why Red states? Congress gave the president the power to sequester and he wants to show them what they LOSE by not dealing honestly!

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above