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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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