Bill could result in loss of pay for federal workers Possibility of losing three days of salary over six weeks exists

January 27, 1996|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The temporary spending bill that Congress approved last night to keep the government open until March 15 contains a bitter pill for federal workers -- the possibility of losing three days pay over the six weeks that the legislation is in effect.

If similar stopgap measures are employed to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, some workers could lose more than three weeks pay.

Whether anyone will actually lose pay depends on the level of funding Congress is providing the employee's agency and the ability of managers to juggle funds.

Congress and President Clinton have approved budgets for some agencies for fiscal 1996, which began Oct. 1.

But more than a dozen agencies have been operating under a series of temporary measures, some at last year's level of spending and others -- those targeted for deep cuts -- at lower levels, some as low as 75 percent.

In earlier temporary spending bills for the current fiscal year, Congress included a provision that allowed agencies to overspend if that was necessary to avoid furloughing employees.

This measure contains similar language -- but adds an exception. It allows agencies to furlough workers for one day every two weeks to stay within spending limits.

If that isn't sufficient, then the agencies can overspend to avoid additional furloughs.

"We are reducing many agencies and departments by at least 5 percent," Rep. Robert L. Livingston, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, told the House on Thursday. "And unless we begin to start to lay off people or furlough them, if necessary, then any savings that we might have received by virtue of the cuts become moot because everybody is still on the job."

Agency managers and union officials were assessing the impact of the language yesterday.

Furloughing "may or may not happen," said Diane Witiak, spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees. "But they have that option."

Spokesmen for the Department of Health and Human Services, the Labor Department and the Social Security Administration said that furloughs would not be needed under the measure.

"What affects us most is the stop-start-stop-start nature of our funding," said Cam Gardett, an HHS spokesman.

Without the anti-furlough language, said the Office of Management and Budget, several thousand workers would be subject to furloughs of two days to 15 days under the bill passed last night.

Agencies were also beginning to consider the possibility that they would finish the fiscal year with a series of temporary spending measures that cut them below last year's level -- and what that would mean.

If the same provision allowing the loss of one day's pay every two weeks were to last through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, any worker who was furloughed the maximum number of times could lose at least 15 day's pay.

If the Labor Department had to finish the year at reduced levels -- and without any anti-furlough provision, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, a GOP target for cuts, would have to furlough its entire work force for seven to eight weeks, officials said.

Moreover, it would have to begin dismissal proceedings against 650 of the employees.

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