Threat of Furlough – Crisis or Leadership Opportunity?

The author suggests involving federal employees in identifying opportunities for reductions in budgets to prevent the need for furloughs.

The evolution of the current crisis de jour regarding the choice to raise taxes and/or cut spending—with federal employees being caught in the middle under the threat of furlough and the continuation of pay freezes—provides federal employees with a unique opportunity to help lead our agencies out of the current crisis and help prevent future crises.

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a six-month spending bill that would provide leaders within the Department of Defense (DoD) with the power to determine what can be cut with the least impact on stakeholders. Assuming that this aspect of the bill is approved by the Senate (which may expand the choice of what to cut to non-DoD agencies) and signed by the President, can federal employees identify the areas that can be improved within their respective organizations that may eliminate the need for a furlough? Is it the best course of action for agency leaders to tell their employees that furloughs are needed because it is impossible to identify areas where the budget could be reduced? 

In fact, despite what happens with the House bill, the need to continually look for ways to improved effectiveness and efficiency is mandated by the Federal Managers’ Financial Integrity Act (FMFIA). I discussed FMFIA in my article “Smaller Government, Better Government?” 

A Way Ahead

 I encourage you to contact your political representative and advocate support for empowering agencies (and its citizens who happen to be federal employees) with the flexibility to identify the cuts to agency budgets.

I also encourage you to support this year’s assessment on internal controls under FMFIA. As opportunities are identified to improve effectiveness and efficiency, work to sustain this effort as a common operating practice within your organization.

For those of you working in the DoD, I provide more detail on a framework to help focus improvement efforts on the Deming based Leadership Network, which is part of MilSuite. MilSuite is a DoD enterprise-wide suite of secure collaboration and professional networking tools located behind a firewall.

For those of you working outside of the DoD, I introduce that framework as a Foundation of Quality in my article “Halftime in America, Part 3”.

About the Author

Timothy J. Clark retired from the federal government with 35 years of service. He is a former enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army. He retired at the rank of Colonel, with over 30 years of combined service in the U.S. Army, National Guard and Army Reserve. He is a strategic analyst with the American Center for Quality Leadership and is active in economic and community development in a small rural county in Indiana.