Impact of Sequestration: One Layoff

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By on May 7, 2014 in Current Events with 0 Comments

According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, only one federal employee was laid off due to the recent sequestration budget cuts.

According to the report, “DOJ officials reported that one DOJ component—the U.S. Parole Commission—implemented a reduction in force of one employee to achieve partial savings required by sequestration in fiscal year 2013.”

While this is good news for federal employees overall, that does not mean that impacts of sequestration were not felt in other ways. There were many temporary furloughs that varied in size and scope by agency.  GAO notes in its report that seven of the agencies it reviewed furloughed a combined total of more than 770,000 federal employees for 1 to 7 days. The bulk of the furloughs were at the Department of Defense which furloughed a total of 640,500 workers.

The table below shows some additional statistics from the GAO report about furloughs at the agencies it surveyed. (Click on the image to view it at full size)

Image showing a table from GAO report of impact of employee furloughs by agency

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) said in a statement that while the minimal layoffs were good news for federal workers, it is harmful to the credibility of politicians in Washington.

“Despite relentless warnings about the dire consequences of sequestration’s budget cuts, it appears sequestration resulted in only one layoff. While that’s good news for federal employees and other workers, it is devastating to the credibility of Washington politicians and administration officials who spent months – and millions of dollars – engaging in a coordinated multi-agency cabinet-level public relations campaign to scare the American people. Taxpayers expect us to root our predictions in fact, not ideology and spin. The facts seem to say the experts underestimated sequestration’s impact by between 99,999 and 1,599,999 jobs, according to two frequently-cited estimates by Goldman Sachs and the Congressional Budget Office,” Dr. Coburn said.

Photo of Tom Coburn

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)

In light of the GAO report, Dr. Coburn sent a letter to the director of the Office of Management and Budget to get a better understanding of  the impact of sequestration on the federal workforce.

The full text of the letter follows below.

Dear Director Burwell,

I appreciate your leadership as the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Your office has an important role in protecting and stewarding taxpayers’ resources. Over the last three years, one of OMB’s most important responsibilities has been the implementation of sequestration, as mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Not only did OMB issue guidance on how departments should plan for the budgetary reductions, OMB also had some discretion in identifying which programs were subject to sequestration reductions.

The Budget Control Act is the law of the land until FY 2021, so it is essential to have a complete understanding of how agencies manage their workforces and operations in this constrained fiscal environment.

Under OMB’s guidance, federal departments and agencies responded to sequestration in a variety of ways, as noted in a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Nearly every agency studied by GAO limited employee training and travel. Most agencies used leftover funds from previous fiscal years to offset some of the mandated reductions. NASA slowed down development of the program that will allow the U.S. to stop relying on Russia for trips to the International Space Station. At the same time, NASA–like most agencies–did not furlough any employees. Similarly, the National Science Foundation reduced the number of new research awards, but did not furlough any employees. Almost no agencies directly reduced the number of staff. Only one agency–the U.S. Parole Commission–implemented a reduction in force of one employee “to achieve partial savings,” according to GAO.

To aid the understanding of the impact of sequestration on the federal workforce, please provide the following information by June 6, 2014:

  1. Broken out by fiscal year, please provide the number of permanent, federal civilian employees for the last five years? Please include a breakdown by agency, position title, and pay scale.
  2. Please provide a list of all departments or agencies that have implemented a reduction in force due to sequestration. Please list any impacted positions, by fiscal year, position title and pay scale.
  3. Please provide electronic copies of any memoranda, guidance, or other documentation circulated by OMB advising federal agencies how to manage their federal workforces in response to sequestration.
  4. What are the legal obstacles, if any, that hinder the executive agencies from making further reductions in workforce levels as they work to increase efficiency?
  5. What is OMB’s timeline for implementing GAO’s recommendation that OMB publish the criteria used to determine the exemption status of program, projects, and activities?

I know we share the goal of ensuring federal resources are used as effectively as possible, and I look forward to working with your office to address these questions.


Tom A. Coburn

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About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.