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Can Obama Order Federal Furloughs?

By Ed O'Keefe



Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley wants President Obama and federal employees to take a 15-day furlough. (AP)

Chicago shut down most city offices on Monday in an effort to save more than $8 million by year's end amid the economic slowdown. Mayor Richard M. Daley has made several cuts to the city budget and has forced himself and some city workers to take a 15-day pay cut. In doing so, he recently suggested that President Obama and federal workers do the same.

"I hope every federal employee from the president all the way down takes 15 days without pay to turn that money back to taxpayers' use, because they're getting laid off, they're getting cut back, there are no jobs out there," Daley said earlier this month.

The mayor's office did not return several calls for clarification and comment (maybe because of the city shutdown?) but Chicago Sun-Times reporter (and Eye friend) Lynn Sweet notes that Daley "has often rallied against Washington, no matter who is the president."

Still -- is a 15-day federal government furlough doable? Not really, according to experts.

"As long as funding is appropriated, it’s not possible to force federal employees to take furloughs," said Donald Kettl, dean of the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy and a leading expert on the federal government. "As long as funding is available, they couldn’t force people to do it."

Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service cautioned that a furlough is "exactly the wrong thing to do and it reinforces the misconception about how important the federal workforce is to addressing our problems." He noted that the 1995 federal government shutdown "horrified" Americans, because "they weren’t getting the services they needed and wanted."

"Government’s more important now than it’s ever been, because it’s central to solving so many of our problems," Stier said.

Kettl and Stier agreed however that Daley's decision to shut down his government demonstrates the serious financial condition of several state and local governments. The financial strain placed on local leaders is something the federal government will have to address in order to shepherd in a full economic recovery, Kettl said.

"The feds can’t just deal with federal issues if they expect a broad economic recovery across the country. This is the sleeper that’s sitting out there that we’re going to have to try to debate somehow."

Not surprisingly, federal employee unions also frown on furloughs, noting that forcing workers to stay home won't end all associated costs.

"Rents on buildings leased by the government would still have to be paid, and the government’s share of health care premiums would continue, to name just two continuing expenditures," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

"Federal managers should be able to manage their budgets to avoid the need for any furloughs," she added.

So what do you think? Is Daley right to suggest that President Obama institute a furlough to save federal dollars?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | August 17, 2009; 1:49 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Workplace Issues  
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Comments

We were furloughed in 1996 so i planned a trip to Italy then we were told we didn't have to be furloughed but i went anyway. I'd like to see the Administration push to eliminate penalties for leaving Federal service before age 62. Also, they should adopt Akaka amendment to credit sick leave accrued under FERS to the retirement date.

Posted by: rufkd | August 17, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

What an incredibly nearsighted proposal. What about all of the shops, restaurants and service providers whose income hinges on the consumer spending of those very same federal workers? Particularly in the DC area, what would happen if thousands of people stopped spending money for three weeks? Stopped going out to eat, stopped buying clothes and other little luxuries? What about the thousands more employed by federal contractors? Depending on the nature of the contract, they'd be out of luck too. Not to mention the janitors, cafeteria workers, building security... all jobs that rely on the continuing operation of the federal government. Consumer activity would come to a near-standstill, with only the most critical transactions taking place.

The 1995 furlough was a bit different, because the affected employees had some hope/expectation that they would eventually be paid when the budget passed. A 15-day pay cut for people already living paycheck-to-paycheck could be catastrophic.

Posted by: paulje | August 17, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

How about just GS-12 and above?

Posted by: Noway1 | August 17, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Only in the Beltway do people believe that bigger government is needed to drive solutions. A catastrophic miscalculation that is driving America into the ground.

A massive pullback in government employment is warranted right now.....at all levels. The false profits of the past 10 years has created a bubble in the public sector that will burst if electeds don't start letting the air out now.

As the private sector deleverages, government gets further in debt , then extends and pretends for as long as they can. But those budget numbers will get weaker and weaker. That will amount to a D-Day for government spending soon.

Posted by: bandcyuk | August 17, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

How asinine would that be? One one hand, you pump billions of dollars of stimulus money into the economy to pump it up then, on the other hand, you take billions out of the hands of families who fuel that same economy? I can't even believe that we are having this conversation.

Posted by: bpbailey1 | August 17, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Another brilliant idea from the mob in Chicago!!!!!!

Posted by: Jimbo77 | August 17, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Americans were 'horrified' because they depend so much on Federal services? Sounds indicative of a far bigger problem with our society, then.

Posted by: pswift00 | August 17, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Paul Krugman (Nobel Prize in economics 2008) recently noted that a stable federal workforce has helped blunt the impact of the economic crisis on other Americans. Federal salaries continue to pump money into American communities. While Daley’s furlough idea makes a great sound bite, it would actually do much more harm than good

Posted by: FellowTraveler | August 17, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

That's the sort of cockeyed logic only a Daley could concoct. Let's all force people to take two weeks off, unpaid. Let's let the work of the people sit for a couple of weeks. Let's then have to pay overtime to all those workers when they get back, so they can catch up on the backlog of passport applications, applications for Social Security, meat inspections, prosecutions of drug criminals and hundreds of other things that would still have to be done. As reported on Fark.com last week, yes, several states that have furloughed employees to "save money" are now having to pay overtime to catch up on the work that never stops just because nobody's there to do it.

Posted by: theturtle | August 17, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

So would we bring the troops back from overseas for 15 days or just keep them in place and tell them to live off the private sector? And would we just walk off the borders or leave a sign up saying "Border closed for 15 days"? And would we ground all civilian aircraft as we shut down the FAA radars? Oh, and if the furlough falls over the first of the month, do we send out Social Security checks late, not at all, or deduct the 15 days from them when we send them out? Just want to understand the ground rules.

Posted by: cwat | August 17, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Good idea. Since I'm a GS-13 that protects the pension plans that the private sector promised and reneged on, I think the taxpayers that count on me don't want me out of the office right now. More grandstanding on policy instead of reason.

Posted by: bflorhodes | August 17, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

A terrible idea. Americans might discover how much better off the country is without hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats contantly telling us what to do, and then what would happen to Big Government? I'm sure President Obama would never let that happen.

Posted by: dennis10 | August 17, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Yay! My husband will be so thrilled that he gets a two week, unpaid vacation from keeping us safe from terrorists.

Posted by: floof | August 17, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

While I would enjoy flying while the TSA folks take their 15 days, we would probably give the air traffic controllers the same days off. The biggest savings though would come if Congress took 15 days, or better yet, 15 months! each year!

Posted by: pondering | August 17, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

He noted that the 1995 federal government shutdown "horrified" Americans, because "they weren’t getting the services they needed and wanted."

WHAT?

I didn't even notice...

Posted by: jschwe | August 17, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I read here that federal employees are not expendable? Sorry - some are. I worked as a contractor for the U.S.EPA for almost 14 years and let me tell you - most of the pencil pushers should be furloughed - period. No one is talking about allowing vital services to be cut, but, come on, with my own eyes and daily interaction with these people, it would be no loss for them to stay home.

Posted by: marine2211 | August 17, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

I read here that federal employees are not expendable? Sorry - some are. I worked as a contractor for the U.S.EPA for almost 14 years and let me tell you - most of the pencil pushers should be furloughed - period. No one is talking about allowing vital services to be cut, but, come on, with my own eyes and daily interaction with these people, it would be no loss for them to stay home.

Posted by: marine2211 | August 17, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

It's a good idea, really. After all, I think we can all agree that there are too many doctors and nurses at the VA providing services to veterans. Nobody would mind if Social Security checks were delayed two weeks nor delaying the enrollment of additional old people in SS or Medicare. Let's not forget the hundreds of thousands of military personnel overseas - they're paid WAY too much. The Labor Department doesn't need anyone to provide job training to the unemployed, and just because it's required by the Constitution is no reason to fund the Commerce Department for the upcoming Census. And that's just to start; what else don't we need?

Posted by: Rational4vr | August 17, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Furloughing federal employees is a great idea. There need not be any reduction in services. They just need to work a little harder!

Posted by: bnichols6 | August 17, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

What? Federal employees suffer like everyone else? Harumph! Preposterous! They didn't take federal jobs to be treated like everyone else! Unlike us, they deserve job security! They're important! Unlike the rest of us shlubs who just make houses, produce food, provide medical care, build roads, fly airplanes... their jobs are actually important!

The 250 hours a year my commute would be reduced by would be nice, though... 5 free hours a week-- more than 6 work weeks a year. Hmmmm...

Posted by: PlayByTheRules | August 17, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Instead of a 15 day furlough, how about switching to a 36 hour work week with four 9 hour shifts.

Posted by: ggwbike | August 17, 2009 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Uh, not to put too fine a point on it, but don't we still have two wars going on? And don’t we have ongoing efforts to stop terrorist attacks, halt the flow of illegal drugs into the country, control air traffic over our cities and get our country out of the great recession? Maybe shutting the government down for two weeks isn't such a hot idea.

Posted by: codexjust1 | August 17, 2009 6:03 PM | Report abuse

I am self-employed, and I have a small federal contract that presently provides me with most of my income. If federal employees were furloughed, invoices would not be processed in a timely way and small business owners like myself would suffer. As for work schedules, federal employees already have the option of working a variety of flexible schedules. I believe the most popular option is the 8/9 shift that gives them one day off every other week.

Posted by: CCW_CherryHillNJ | August 17, 2009 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Apparently some of you Daley supporters are kinda funny. Perhaps most are disgruntled applicants or clowns who think they know the operation as a contractor. Those are really funny! I think anyone with a brain should realize that the services are sheerly needed and it would shut down the country, not just the govt.

Perhaps most of the bozos responding negatively sit in some cubicle for your private sector job and are clueless that your corporation or company would FOLD without the federal govt services. So you'll be right behind us.

I wish they would shut down everything for 15 days. heck, let's make it 30 days! I am sure most of fed employees could struggle for a month without a pay check. Let's see how you negative responders feel then!

Mayor Daley is about the most stupid person in politics as of this article!

Posted by: darbyohara | August 18, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

Hey - playbytherules and bnichols6: Not all federal workers sit on their tushes all day twiddling their thumbs. Some of us do actually work pretty hard. Some of us - gasp - put in way more hours than you private sector schlubs who want to dump all over us do.

I love how righteous you get, as though somehow I and other federal employees don't deserve the jobs that we have. Frankly, I'm perfectly fine with playing high and mighty here because I remember all my grad school colleagues were taking the high paying private sector jobs and looking down their noses at me because I chose to take the low paying gov job; telling me I was an idiot for doing so. When I worked two jobs to make ends meet because the fed salary was too low to live in the city and pay my bills they snickered and threw money at new condos and cars.

So you know what? Frankly - I'm not willing to take a 15 day pay cut now to pay for your excesses. I don't like frankly that all of you irresponsible people who bought new cars and houses and condos you can't afford are getting bailed either. But hey - I guess I get to pay for your mistakes through my taxes. But that's as much as I'm willing to pay for.

Bottom line - you made your own choices, you get to live with your own consequences.

Posted by: vickistired | August 18, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

As a gesture of solidarity, it is good politics. As a tool to get results, it is of low value. Extraordinary measures should be taken to preserve jobs, as when Hewlett-Packard took a 10-day fortnight in the 1980's to avoid layoffs. But the Federal government would do better to re-evaluate workforce skillsets required and through transfers, promotions, and attrition, reduce underperforming or underutilized job classes and put resources into the areas that are needed. Specific measurements of effectiveness need to be crafted to ensure that any growth is merited and realizing mission objectives - which is itself a very controversial subject within the Federal community, as evidenced by NSPS lawsuits. Government attempts to address all situations by rules and policies; that fails when novel situations and managerial discretion are called for. Private industry may be subjective, but it is nimble and has corrective forces applied by the need to retain employees, which restrains unbridled abuse to some degree. No system is perfect, but comparing performance of the rule-based government methodology to the discretion in private industry leads me to conclude that private industry is far more productive per capita, generally more challenged by interesting work, while government is bloated, cumbersome, and EXTREMELY stable (perhaps properly so; just as the Barbara Walters needed a counterpoint in Katie Couric or the Beatles needed the Rolling Stones, the volatility of industry persistance needs a counterpoint, especially in a downturn, of an alternate system that sustains itself instead of dramatically imploding and disappearing).

Posted by: Mackle | August 18, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

As a gesture of solidarity, it is good politics and publicity. As a tool to get results, it is a suggestion of low value. Extraordinary measures should be instituted in order to preserve jobs, as when Hewlett-Packard took a 10-day fortnight in the 1980's to avoid layoffs. But the Federal government would do far better in the long-term to re-evaluate workforce skillsets required and through transfers, promotions, and attrition, reduce underperforming or underutilized job classes and put resources into the areas that are needed. Specific measurements of effectiveness need to be crafted to ensure that any growth is merited and realizing mission objectives - which is itself a very controversial subject within the Federal community, as evidenced by NSPS lawsuits. Government attempts to address all situations by rules and policies; that fails when novel situations and managerial discretion are called for. Private industry may be subjective, but it is nimble and has corrective forces applied by the need to retain employees, which restrains unbridled abuse to some degree. No system is perfect, but comparing performance of the rule-based government methodology to the discretion in private industry leads me to conclude that private industry is far more productive per capita, generally more challenged by interesting work, while government is bloated, cumbersome, and EXTREMELY stable (perhaps properly so; just as the Barbara Walters needed a counterpoint in Katie Couric or the Beatles needed the Rolling Stones, the volatility of industry persistance needs a counterpoint, especially in a downturn, of an alternate system that sustains itself instead of dramatically imploding and disappearing). It boils down to the short-term/cashflow focus of industry versus the long-term/investment model of government. Which type of institution plans to last in perpetuity????

Posted by: Mackle | August 18, 2009 9:08 AM | Report abuse

For Norway1: Why not just GS-12's and BELOW? You, my friend are an idiot.

Posted by: pmaley | August 18, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Please please please call a 15 day furlough for federal workers. I am exhausted from spending all the stimulus money and not taking leave. I could certainly use the time off.

Posted by: Jimmie54 | August 18, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I would not advise a 15-day furlough as this would worsten things that are already in disarray...such as mortgages/rent wouldn't get paid, strain on household budgets, etc. When you have people already working paycheck to paycheck, why would you come in at a time when this could makes things worst?? I recommend finding another way.

Posted by: leshawne29 | August 18, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Its the typical misery loves company theory. Folks like Daley have nothing of substance to offer those who are down on their luck except to say that if they allow him to do so, he will make everyone down on their luck. Its a typical dim lib idea of FAIRNESS. If someone is miserable, attack anyone who is not.

Posted by: WmJLePetomane | August 18, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

What a splendid idea, oh, and let's not forget to shut the Federal Prisons down also. Maybe Chicago can house, feed, and medicate all the inmates while BOP staff are on furlough.

Posted by: jb1111 | August 18, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

The government should put their personal money where their mouth is - start first by ruthlessly downsizing the government, getting rid of all "pig" in the stimulus bill, return the new jets, show us absolute transparency in government and quit playing politics.

Plain and simple - give Americans some sign that our Government really cares and that they will clean their house first.

Actually it wouldn't bother me if Pelosi and her faithful followers were give a long leave of absence or sent out to sea without any paddles.

As Always, Annie

Posted by: annie21 | August 18, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Being from the Chicago Area, I am accustomed to how Daley acts and reacts. Oftentimes, he'll just throw out some comment or thought such as this without thinking about it. Here is one instance where the nation at large sees his style. Probably he is too wrapped up with planning for 2016 Olympics rather than the next couple years.

Posted by: outthere | August 18, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Furloughs have been ordered in the past, last was in 1986 during Reagan administration by Reagan himself!
I was cut as a civil service fed working in a critical position from 40 hours + overtime to 32 hours a week for 3 months!
They didn't cut the managers making in excess of GS-13 or $200,thousand! They furloughed us little civis!
This put me in near bankrupcy and default in student loans, my creditors calls non stop because my paycheck was drastically cut back to just basic rent & food!
Uncle Sam would not let us work at another job! Furloughs should be for anyone in the Fed. Gov't that makes $200,000. a year and for politicians like Senators, Congressman, to start setting the example and trickle down to the appointed high paying Fed. managers.
Not the little hard working Fed.

Posted by: geldan | August 18, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Of course employees under NSPS are going to complain about accountability. NSPS is not designed to make the employee happy. It is set up to make sure that HARD WORKING tax paying citizens get their moneys worth from these employees. Are you going to get complaints, of course you are who wants people looking over their shoulder! In the private sector Big Brother is in full affect and they base their compensation on who they like i.e... The good workers, who come to work, don’t miss days, and get this put up metrics to show they are working. Union money runs deep in this big push to oust the NSPS, are there flaws “YES” but no more or less than in the GS system. Government employees have sat on their butts to long with out accountability, it is here and it is going to stay in some shape, way, or form. So put up, shut up, or go to the private sector where you will be monitored even more!!!

Posted by: NSPS-EMPLOYEE | August 18, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

When Daley was the Secretary of Commerce, I'm sure he flew coach the whole time, did not waste any taxpayer dollars and did not have any 'pet' projects that cost the taxpayers and the Dept of Commerce any money. Give me a break! Another former federal executive (who served for only a few years) who's been to Washington, done his 1-2 years of time and thinks he has the solution to everything.

Posted by: joeb66 | August 20, 2009 6:54 AM | Report abuse

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