Bracing for Furlough Video: About a dozen personnel from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District are bracing for an administrative furlough expected to begin in early May. The action is the result of sequestration cuts to the tune of $85 billion across the federal government this fiscal year. (Video by Lee Roberts)
Story By Lee Roberts
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (March 23, 2013) – Uncertainty lingers in the federal workforce in the wake of the sequestration order signed by President Barack Obama March 2, 2013 authorizing the government to begin cutting $85 billion across the board from non-exempt accounts.
However, it’s fairly certain now that about a dozen federal employees at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District have been identified for furlough in early May. Without legislative intervention, they will be forced to take off one day each week for 20 straight weeks, which amounts to 160 hours lost and a 20 percent pay cut.
District officials originally believed 700 employees would be furloughed, but received word March 20 that the majority of 704 employees will not be furloughed because their positions are funded primarily by civil works appropriations. The positions still affected are funded directly by the Department of the Army.
Oscar Mahecha Medina, an Army intern in the Planning Branch, expects to receive a letter by April 5 officially notifying him of a furlough. He said March 21 that he just started working for the district and his wife is expecting to give birth in five months. She doesn’t work, so this is not good news for the family, he said.
“I have a newborn coming (soon). I know it’s going to affect us in some way financially, but we’re working on it,” Medina said. “We’re already at a tight budget right now.”
Medina said even though his wife is pregnant she may have to return to work for a short time to make up some of the money being lost during the furlough. He said he is looking into options and appreciates the support he’s been receiving from his supervisor and the district.
He said he’s not too much into politics, but said he thinks that the leadership in Washington D.C. needs to find other ways of resolving the budget crisis. “They shouldn’t be effecting people and cutting checks,” Medina said.
Not being able to go to work is not a fun experience, said Holly Boland, a budget analyst. She recalls being furloughed when the federal government briefly shut down in November 1995 when she served as a secretary.
“It was a big deal for me losing money,” Boland said, even though she ultimately only missed five or six days of work before Congress passed a budget. “You’re taking a cut in pay. You’re losing your money. You have to really think about what you’re going to do,” she said.
Boland said she understands all too well the stress of dealing with uncertainty and what it means to be furloughed. She advises employees being affected by this furlough to tighten their belts, adjust their budgets, maybe don’t eat out if necessary, and take steps to avoid spending money frivolously.
The American Forces Press Service reported March 11 that the Department of Defense comptroller announced that furloughs can begin as early as April 26, although that date has since been adjusted to May 5.
Keeping federal employees informed on the status of the furlough and ways of coping with the reduction of hours has been a priority for the district. Additionally, human resources personnel have been meeting with employees to educate them and provide necessary resources.
Lynn Bradley, human resources supervisor for the Nashville District, said his team has been communicating as much as possible with employees and even held 15 face-to-face meetings last week to explain the furlough process. He said being able to talk straight with people made those meetings effective.
“I think that went over pretty good to try and let people know what is a furlough, how is it going to impact them, what are the notification procedures, and what is out there to assist them in getting through a furlough because it is going to be stressful for everybody,” Bradley said. “The best we can do is communicate with the workforce and let them know what resources are out there to assist them in this time period.”
Bradley said employees have an internal SharePoint web page where they can get details about the furlough and can ask questions electronically to get answers on a variety of topics. Information on sequestration, hiring freeze and furlough is also available on the Civilian Personnel webpage.
There are also resources available to educate employees about financial planning and stress management. Nashville District employees can obtain information about the Employee Assistance Program by calling 800-799-9327 or visiting www.stueckerandassoc.com. The EAP is a confidential counseling program for employees and their immediate household members who may need specialized help.
“It’s been a very long time since we went through any furlough, much less an administrative furlough,” Bradley said. “As we receive information from higher headquarters we push that out as quickly as we can to the command as well as the employees, and try to give them as much information and (be) as accurate as possible so they can make decisions and fully understand what that is going to do to them and how it’s going to impact them.”
Bradley encourages employees to communicate with a friend, family member, supervisor or a professional counselor if they need help.
“It’s going to be a very stressful time. Sometimes the best way to simply deal with it is to talk to somebody who is going through the same thing,” Bradley said.
It’s good advice that he gives to individuals like Medina. Not only is Bradley an authority for the district on furloughs, but he too has been identified to be affected by the furlough.