Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Agencies prepare for worst as cliff talks get closer to edge

WASHINGTON — Federal agencies are sharpening their plans for forced spending cuts starting Jan. 2 if the Obama administration and Congress cannot agree on a deficit reduction strategy in the coming days.

Some agencies envision furloughs for federal workers, while others are mapping out how to slow hiring and outside contracting and put programs on hold if the across-the-board reductions known as a sequester kick in, affecting millions of Americans.

With just weeks to go before $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years are set to start, the White House sent word this week to civilian and defense agencies to prepare for the worst to happen.

But the White House may be leading from behind. For months, some managers have been quietly preparing worst-case plans, having grown painfully familiar with budget uncertainty after a near-government shutdown last year and numerous stopgap budgets.

From the federal courts to the National Park Service, agencies have been sweating the logistics on how to shrink their day-to-day operations.

The court system, which faces a $555 million loss next year under an 8.2 percent cut mandated for civilian agencies, is preparing to close some district courts one day a week, impose employee furloughs of up to four weeks and reduce the hours of security officers who guard courthouses.

"We've all developed this master plan that nobody hopes we'll have to enact," said David Sellers, spokesman for the administrative office of the federal courts. A committee of court officials from across the country has met for a year to decide where the system would absorb the cuts, balancing furloughs with delayed trials.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission assured employees in November that no furloughs or layoffs are planned. Instead, to save money, outside contracts would be stretched out or stopped. The National Park Service has slowed some hiring for the tourist season, a strategy that advocates and former park officials said would have to continue in January.

The Defense Department is likely to impose an immediate hiring freeze on its civilian workforce, said a spokeswoman, Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins. Furloughs, rather than layoffs, would begin within a few weeks, she said.

And unions that represent federal workers are dusting off their manuals on when to call for bargaining with management over unpaid furloughs, which would probably be forced on thousands of employees.

"Nobody knows what's going to happen with the fiscal cliff," said Danette Woo, special park uses coordinator at the Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County, Calif. "What happens is totally out of our control, but it affects our ability to get our job done."

Park managers have prepared a "budget constraint" plan that calls for layoffs of seasonal employees and program cuts, Woo said. Like other agencies, the Park Service in recent months has slowed hiring, travel and training.

At the NRC, "the agency has certainly worked under the assumption that sequestration is a very real possibility," spokesman Scott Burnell said. "We've put the work into understanding how we would go about continuing to operate."

The Office of Management and Budget asked agencies in an internal memo this week for more detailed analysis of their financial operations than was in a 394-page report the White House provided to Congress in September.

That report listed more than 1,200 agencies and federal programs that would lose anywhere from 8.2 percent (domestic) to 9.4 percent (military) of their budgets. About $2.5 billion would be excised from the National Institutes of Health and $555 million from nutrition-aid programs for low-income women, infants and children, for example.

Administration officials called this week's notice "technical" planning given that agencies are living under a temporary budget.

Comments
‘Papa! Papa!’ Audio of children stokes rage over separation

‘Papa! Papa!’ Audio of children stokes rage over separation

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — An audio recording that appears to capture the heartbreaking voices of small Spanish-speaking children crying out for their parents at a U.S. immigration facility took center stage Monday in the growing uproar over the Trump admi...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
Romano: A Tampa Bay 'superstar' caught in the crosshairs of Trump's border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay 'superstar' caught in the crosshairs of Trump's border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage. But what of tomorrow? And the day after? When the story of President Donald Trum...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
The Daystarter: South Florida rapper gunned down; latest on the immigration controversy; the album we’ve all been waiting for

The Daystarter: South Florida rapper gunned down; latest on the immigration controversy; the album we’ve all been waiting for

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• It’s here: summer. Highs this week will all be in the 90s, with feels-like temperatures near 100 degrees, according to 10Weather WTSP.• As you head out for your morning commute, check...
Updated: 28 minutes ago
Up to 1,000 children held by immigration authorities now living in Homestead compound

Up to 1,000 children held by immigration authorities now living in Homestead compound

The Trump administration has reopened a 1,000-bed Homestead facility that once housed minors who entered the country illegally and alone, reviving a compound at a time when the White House is under fire for a new policy that separates children from p...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

A Fort Meade man was killed Monday night and two others were wounded after Polk County deputies say they approached a man while searching for a lost dog.The shooting occurred around 6:45 p.m. at the home of suspected shooter Charles Peddycoart, at 41...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Moment of silence marks attack near London mosque

Grieving family members joined community leaders for a moment of silence in London, remembering a man who died and a dozen others who were injured when a jobless loner drove his van into a crowd leaving evening prayers during Ramadan last year
Updated: 1 hour ago

Iraq Foreign Ministry condemns strikes it says killed Iraqis

Iraq condemns the targeting of pro-Syria paramilitary troops in eastern Syria after an airstrike killed mostly Iraqi Shiite forces
Updated: 1 hour ago

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un welcomed by Chinese President Xi Jinping on visit to Beijing

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un welcomed by Chinese President Xi Jinping on visit to Beijing
Updated: 1 hour ago

Syrian army drops leaflets over southern region amid tension

Syrian army helicopters have dropped leaflets over rebel-held parts of the country's south calling on civilians to help the military clear the area of militants
Updated: 1 hour ago
It's been a journey for Maguire from England fan to player

It's been a journey for Maguire from England fan to player

Harry Maguire has had quite a journey from being a fan in France two years ago at the European Championships to playing for England at the World Cup
Updated: 1 hour ago