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The ripple effect of furloughs

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Defense Department civilian employees have begin taking the long expected -- and feared -- furlough days. (Stock image)

FCW's stories on the ongoing saga of Defense Department furloughs have all attracted attention and comments, many from those on the receiving end of the mandatory pay cuts and time off. Our latest report, DOD furloughs begin as Pentagon looks to 2014, was no exception. Readers chimed in to share their experiences and viewpoints – and yes, rant a bit about the powers that be and their disconnect with the people most affected.

Reader RayW wrote:

I wonder how much this furlough will cost the taxpayers? I know that our contractors have three days every two weeks in which they cannot work since we are not here to have the building open, so they sit in another building wasting eight hours per person per day doing personal stuff since they have no contract work that can be performed there. I personally am being told that even though I have a [25 percent to 30 percent] cut in hours I still have to meet deadlines ...

I know that one of our groups (the GS14 and GS15 level) is trying to hire contractors to do some critical infrastructure work so as to not look bad. The peons are yelling at them saying NO, that makes us look bad because the work gets done with a cut in time so that means we are not needed. If management gets their way, then the contractors cost more, and the government workers get a worse reputation. Of course, if the work does not get done now, then other things break too, costing more to fix in time and material.

Amber Corrin responds: A lot of red flags here, indeed. A bit of research confirms what most probably assume: hard numbers on the taxpayer costs of sequestration-related furloughs, specifically those at DOD, are difficult, maybe impossible, to come by.

However, most sources say there will indeed be costs incurred and taxpayers will foot the bill. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) on July 12 posted on his website that DOD furloughs would delay the completion of already-funded projects at Fleet Readiness Center East, resulting in overtime to make up for lost time "and an ultimate increase in cost for the Department of Defense and taxpayers. "

Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.) took a similar stance in a July 8 statement to the Anniston Star. "I believe these ill-advised furloughs will not only hurt our military's readiness, but ultimately cost the taxpayer more money in the long-run," Rogers said.

Those costs stem from myriad places, programs and projects. Appeals to the merit system protection board, to which furloughed employees were able to appeal their furlough after being notified, reportedly cost thousands in man-hours. According to CNNMoney, some furloughed DOD employees are eligible for unemployment benefits. DOD agencies that generate revenue lose those profits, and in a domino effect that ends up costing taxpayers as well, according to one former Space and Naval Warfare Command (SPAWAR) official.

"Without the furlough, SPAWAR would have experienced a generation of revenue from work in support of its customers, while simultaneously finding itself able to absorb related overhead fixed costs. When employees are furloughed, SPAWAR is unable to recoup any revenue as a result of each affected employee. In effect, the furloughs actually increase, rather than reduce, both taxpayer and [DOD] costs," James Ward, former SPAWAR Systems Center executive director, wrote last month in the Charleston Post and Courier. "Further, SPAWAR will need to increase its rate structure to make up this loss in overhead generated dollars. But SPAWAR has experienced significant growth by successfully lowering its rates due to executing more direct hours than planned and thus providing even more efficiency to its customers. That is what we all expect from government."

As for hiring contractors? Don't count on it. As stated in the original FCW story, a June 28 memo from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel explicitly forbid the hiring or repurposing of contractors "to compensate for the workload/productivity loss resulting from the civilian furlough."

Posted by Amber Corrin on Jul 12, 2013 at 2:08 PM

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Reader comments

Mon, Aug 5, 2013 Tired

You know what? As a long time federal employee who over the past 23 years has worked from the very bottom of the system to close to the top, I can say I'm tired. I've moved for the sake of the government seven times, all of which involved my spouse giving up their professional employment and taking losses on real estate and salary. I've worked an average of 10 hours a week extra (for free) to get the job done, or more accurately to fill in for the "vacant" positions that we haven't been able to fill. I've juggled resources, done "more with less" and saved the taxpayer millions upon millions of dollars by improving management processes and cutting out things that were not mission critical. I've done all of that without complaint, without extra pay, without a salary increase for the last four years and for the forseeable future, but this is it. The furlough just proved that it doesn't matter how committed you are, how hard you work, or how much you care. It doesn't matter because your efforts are so unimportant that your workweek, income and everything else associated with it can be cut at the whim of politicians proving a point. So guess what...those midnight "hot" emails can wait until Monday. The work that gets done at night can also wait until you pay me. Because after all of these years, I'm finally ready to give the government the same respect and committment that I have received...which is not much. I'm not going to do more with less anymore. I'm going to do exactly what I can do with what you give me. Then I'm going home. Until I find another job anyway. Oh, and I'm not appealing - it won't be worth the paper it's written on. I will however vote and encourage literally everyone I know to vote against the most ineffective Congress that I have seen in my 46 years. Who knows, maybe I'll run myself. At least I can pass a budget.

Mon, Jul 29, 2013

For single parents you might as well have slit our throats with the furlough.

Wed, Jul 24, 2013 BJT

Obama says that middle class and economy are so very important. Please ask him and others why, civil servants are being furloughed if these ar the Nations focus areas? Did we not just reduce the income and tax base via furlough and place many working middle class in hardship? Contradictions seem to be abundant. Which is it? We need action taken now to rescind forlogh The vision relayed and the reality are fundamentally different!

Thu, Jul 18, 2013 Fedup FL

If EVERY civilian employee furloughed that was eligible to file and MSPB apeal would do so, it would send a STRONG message to our leaders, but alas, I am surrounded by sheep. I choose, however, to be a sheepdog and have my appeal ready, just waiting for the 30 day clock to run down, in case new information surfaces. I was also "counseled" for going outside my "chain of command" when I sent copies of my response to the proposed furlough to my elected officials.... But who created this mess and who has the power to change it?

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 Cowboy Joe

When I saw the title "ripple effect" I was thinkin' on a bigger scale I guess. The economy of the little town we live in is kinda dominated by a couple of federal agencies - well the system income is anyway. Most the Feds'll come out ok - tighten their belts and suck it in a bit - but the hurt'll be on the support indistries where these folk spend their cash. Don't mistake me for some ol' Reagan "trickle down" enthusiast, but that's where we're already seein' the impacts ... the restaurants & coffee shops, car dealers, and the like. Some a these folks 'll close up shop - with a few endin' up on the dole, but the bulk of 'em 'll just pick up 'n move to where they can find work. Then it'll be the schools and parks that take the hit, then some of the other service sectors like the beauty parlor ... and eventually we'll see another crop of empty storefronts at that thing that passes for a "mall" at the edge of town. THen folks start gettin' paid again, but credit histories are all bunged up, facilities are all in disrepair, and in general it's just gonna cost a hayload more. All 'n all, the furloughs and the rest of the sequester horse apples just look more 'n more like a "kissin'" contest between the bulls ... at the expense of everybody else.

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