FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — Army civilian personnel are bracing for the impact of furloughs and changing financial priorities on their organizations. Approximately 251,000 Department of the Army civilians have been or will be notified soon if they will be furloughed up to 22 days starting in April.
In order to meet national security responsibilities, IMCOM is prioritizing readiness and programs based on the Army strategy, while adjusting to the fiscal resources available.
Furloughs are a result of the Budget Control Act passed Aug. 2, 2011, which requires more than $487 billion in cuts from the defense base budget over 10 years, beginning in fiscal year 2013. A furlough places an employee in a temporary non-duty and non-pay status.
The Department of Defense has notified Congress of their intent to furlough most civilian employees up to 22 non-consecutive days — one day per week until the end of the fiscal year. Active duty, reserve and National Guard are exempt from furloughs.
How an individual employee or activity is affected by furloughs will be subject to the command and the overall guidance of human resources and legal advice.
Furloughs have the potential to impact approximately 27,000 IMCOM employees. There may be some exceptions for those deployed in a combat zone and those duties protect life, health and safety of Soldiers and their Families.
All employees who may be furloughed are entitled by law to a 30-day notice before implementation and should have received notice on or before Tuesday.
The financial burden of the furlough will be the equivalent of an 8 1/2 percent annual reduction in pay. However, a one-day-per-week furlough during the last weeks of the fiscal year (from late April through September) equates to a 20-percent reduction in pay during that time period.
Overtime and compensation time are curtailed, and no employee will be allowed to volunteer services during the furlough. Telework and the use of government-issued electronics, such as Blackberries, laptops or iPods will not be permitted on furlough days.
An additional burden at IMCOM will be the potential termination of temporary and term employees. The permanent workforce may have to pick up and fulfill these duties left vacant, while working 20 percent fewer man-hours.
Health benefits, flexible spending accounts, federal group life insurance, vision and dental plans and federal long-term care plans are not impacted during this furlough period. However, the employee is still responsible for the full premiums due for these benefits, even though their gross pay will be reduced.
These factors are expected to increase the stress on the workforce as they feel the impact on their home budgets while attempting to balance work priorities during a shortened work-week.
Other questions on the furloughs are emerging. For example, how the work week schedule will be affected by furloughs is not clear. Some facilities and activities may accomplish their mission with a reduced workweek, while others may go to a rotating schedule in an attempt to maintain customer service.
Discretion is likely to be in the hands of the supervisor or division leader with guidance from the garrison commander.
Employee vacation days cannot be used to cover a furlough day, but there is no prohibition to taking accrued annual leave during the furlough period, with supervisor approval. The scheduling of annual leave during the furlough will likely be a lot tighter due to the reduced work hours, and annual leave may need to be cancelled to meet the mission.
If a furlough day is scheduled immediately before and after a federal holiday, the employee will not earn the holiday pay. This has the potential to have additional impact on pay for pay-periods including Monday, May 27 (Memorial Day), Thursday, July 4 (Independence Day) and Monday, Sept. 2 (Labor Day).
The availability of unemployment compensation to ease the effect of furloughs is difficult to summarize because the rules of each state will apply.
Employees may seek part-time employment in the civilian sector, however, they should discuss this with their supervisor to meet ethics requirements.
The effect of furloughs on an employee’s Thrift Savings Plan, or TSP, depends on whether deductions are based on percentage of basic pay or on dollar amount, and it may affect the agency’s contribution. Since some retirement contributions are also based on a percentage of pay, officials encourage employees to meet with their human resources representatives and/or financial planners to determine how furloughs might affect their TSP and retirement contributions.
The availability of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs may also be affected, but the full impact is not yet known. This may impact the Army’s ability to mitigate the negative effects of the furlough by providing morale, welfare and recreation activities and family support programs.
All sequestration and furlough plans and actions are designed to be reversible. If Congress passes a balanced deficit reduction plan that the president signs, the impact of sequestration on civilian employees may be avoided.
There is activity in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to write bills which would soften the effects of sequestration; however there is no guarantee that furloughs will not be enacted for the full term.
For more information on how sequestration and furloughs affect the IMCOM workforce, go to http://www.imcom.army.mil/Organization/G1Personnel.aspx.