Back-pay question has no clear answers

While furloughed feds were paid retroactively in the past, it seems unlikely that a new bill offering the same option will pass

As the possibility of a government shutdown continues to loom, federal employees remain haunted by the prospect of not being paid for the time they miss because of a furlough.

At a press briefing April 7, President Barack Obama acknowledged the financial impact a shutdown would have on the federal workforce.

“First of all, 800,000 families — our neighbors, our friends, who are working hard all across the country in a whole variety of functions — they suddenly are not allowed to come to work,” Obama said. “It also means that they’re not getting a paycheck. That obviously has a tremendous impact.”

But it was Jeff Zients, deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget, who clarified the administration’s position on the matter at another briefing that same day.

“As you know, in 1995, indeed, furloughed employees were paid,” Zients said. “It’s Congress’ decision, but the administration will support reimbursement.”

As members of Congress continued to struggle with the budget, Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) on April 7 introduced a bill, H.R.1429, that would authorize back pay for furloughed workers. Although the bill stands a slim chance of passage in the Republican-controlled House, Moran, too, said Congress did approve furlough back pay after the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns.

National Federation of Federal Employees President William Dougan said the union supports Moran's measure. “These hard-working women and men have bills to pay and families to feed. They want to work,” Dougan said. “Federal workers do not deserve to be punished because Congress refuses to do its job.”

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley sent a letter to lawmakers reiterating that same point. “I urge you to follow [the] precedent and to support a final appropriations bill that does not penalize federal employees for the inability of Congress to act in a timely manner,” Kelley wrote.

But most federal employee advocates also are realistic about the chances of reimbursement.

"The way we view the pay matter is that during the last shutdown most [feds] believed that they were going to get paid," and they were, Dan Adcock, legislative director for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, told Federal Daily. "Now, this time, we’re not so sure. We’re hopeful. We’re going to fight to ensure that federal employees are made whole. But given the current politics of anti-fed sentiment, there is a more likely chance than before that they won’t be paid."

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