Personnel matters addressed regarding sequestration and furlough
March 15, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (March 13, 2013) -- Questions on sequestration abound, but many answers are readily available.
"We want to ensure our Fort Benning employees are informed on all aspects of how sequestration will affect them," said Gary Jones, MCoE Public Affairs director, "so they can at least understand the issues and plan accordingly."
Q. What does sequestration mean?
A. Sequestration is an across-the-board reduction in federal budgetary resources in all budget accounts that have not been exempted by statute. On March 1, this sequestration reduces each agency's budgetary resources in non-exempt accounts for the remainder of the fiscal year (which runs through Sept. 30, 2013).
Q. What is continuing resolution? How long is it expected to last?
A. The Department of Defense is operating under a continuing resolution through March 27 at least. Because most of the operating funding was planned to increase from FY 2012 to FY 2013, but is instead being held at FY 2012 under the CR, funds will run short at the rates of expenditure if the CR continues through the end of the fiscal year in its current form.
Q. What is the difference between continuing resolution and sequestration?
A. These are two separate factors currently creating our fiscal uncertainty. A continuing resolution is a type of appropriations legislation used to fund government agencies if a formal bill is not signed into law. Sequestration is taking the amount of money equal to the difference between the cap set in the budget resolution and the amount actually appropriated by the Treasury and not giving it to the agencies not passing an appropriations bill.
Q. What is a furlough?
A. A furlough is the placing of an employee in a temporary non-duty, non-pay status because of lack of funds, or other non-disciplinary reasons.
Q. What is the difference between an administrative furlough and a shutdown furlough?
A. An administrative furlough is a planned event by an agency that is designed to absorb reductions necessitated by downsizing, reduced funding, lack of work, or any budget situation other than a lapse in appropriations. Furloughs that will result from sequestration would generally be considered administrative furloughs. A shutdown furlough (also called an emergency furlough) occurs when there is a lapse in appropriations, and can occur at the beginning of a fiscal year, if no funds have been appropriated for that year, or upon expiration of a continuing resolution, if a new continuing resolution or appropriations law is not passed. In a shutdown furlough, an affected agency would have to shut down any activities funded by annual appropriations that are not excepted by law. Typically, an agency will have very little to no lead time to plan and implement a shutdown furlough.
Q. If an administrative furlough is implemented, how long is it expected to last?
A. The length of a furlough (if one is required) is not known. For this fiscal year, the furlough will not be longer than 30 calendar days or 22 discontinuous days.
Q. Will temporary and term employees be included in the furlough?
A. If temporary and term employees have been approved to stay with TRADOC, they will also be furloughed (unless otherwise excepted from the furlough).
Q. Under administrative furlough, when/how will employees be notified?
A. Employees will receive at least 30 days notification prior to being furloughed. Employees will have 7 calendar days to reply unless union agreements provide for a longer response period.
Q. What will happen if I receive a furlough notice and don't provide a response within 7 days? Are these 7 calendar days?
A. The deciding official will make a decision based on the other information available to him or her. Failure to respond does not delay possible action.
Q. If a furlough is implemented, will a personnel action be processed?
A. Yes, a Standard Form 50 will be generated.
Q. Is it true a reduction in force will be coming next?
A. While we expect next year to be fiscally challenging, currently there are no plans for a reduction in force at TRADOC activities in FY14 associated with the need to address FY 13 fiscal uncertainties.
Pay, Leave, SCD, Benefits
Q. May I volunteer to do my job on a non-pay basis during any hours or days designated as furlough time off?
A. No. Unless otherwise authorized by law, an agency may not accept the voluntary services of an employee.
Q. Will the furlough impact my service computation date for earning annual leave?
A. For purposes of computing accrual rates for annual leave (i.e., 4, 6, or 8 hours per pay period), an aggregate of 6 months of non-pay status in a calendar year is creditable service. The service computation date must be adjusted by the amount of non-pay time in excess of 6 months in a calendar year (i.e., excess time is added to the employee's service computation date).
Q. Will the furlough impact my leave accrual?
A. The accumulation of non-pay status hours during a leave year can affect the accrual of annual leave and sick leave. For example, when a full-time employee with an 80-hour bi-weekly tour of duty accumulates a total of 80 hours of non-pay status from the beginning of the leave year (either in one pay period, or over the course of several pay periods), the employee will not earn annual and sick leave in the pay period in which that 80 hours accumulation is reached. For part-time employees, leave accrual is prorated based on hours in a pay status in each pay period; thus time in nonpay status reduces leave accrual in each pay period containing such time.
Q. May an employee take LWOP under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) during an administrative furlough period?
A. Yes, an employee may take LWOP under FMLA. Employees may designate any hours and/or days of LWOP under FMLA as furlough time off in order to meet the furlough requirements. During a furlough any LWOP and FMLA that is scheduled to be taken instead of a furlough day off will not count toward an employee's 12-week FLMA leave entitlement. Employees who take LWOP under FMLA instead of a furlough day off may not later substitute paid leave for the days of LWOP. Agencies are not required to provide an employee with a furlough notice if the employee is not expected to work during the furlough period (e.g., an employee who has just given birth and has requested 12-weeks of unpaid leave (LWOP) under the FMLA). If the employee is scheduled to return to work from LWOP during the furlough period, the employee should be provided with a furlough notice (effective on the date of scheduled return).
Q. Will the furlough impact high-3?
A. Generally there will be no effect on the high-3 average pay unless the furlough causes the employee to be in a non-pay status for more than 6 months during the calendar year.
Q. Can premium pay, such as overtime pay, be authorized?
A. Based on current Army guidance, commands are prohibited from using premium pay (compensatory time or overtime) to offset furloughs.
Q. Who pays for the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) of furloughed employees? Will sequestration impact an employee's benefits under FEHB?
A. Agencies continue to be responsible for the agency contribution of any furloughed employees and each employee remains responsible for his or her employee contribution. If an employee's paycheck is insufficient to cover his or her share, the enrollee share will accumulate and will then be withheld from pay upon return to pay status. Detailed guidance on employee benefits during an administrative furlough is found on page 6 of OPM's Guidance on Administrative Furloughs.
Thrift Savings Plan
Q. What will happen to my TSP if I am furloughed?
A. Employees can opt to contribute a specific dollar amount, or a percentage based upon their pay, to their 401(k)-style retirement accounts. Those who use the percentage method will see a smaller contribution if they are furloughed. For example, if employees contribute 5 percent of their paycheck each pay period to their TSP accounts, then that amount (as well as the government's matching contribution) will be proportionally reduced.
Q. Can I borrow money from my TSP account?
A. If you expect to be furloughed on a periodic basis (for example, two days per pay period), you can take a TSP loan but will be responsible for keeping your loan payments up-to-date if you don't earn enough per pay period to make each required loan payment.
Q. Can I withdraw money from my TSP account?
A. While you are in a non-pay status, you can request an in-service withdrawal. There are two types of in-service withdrawals: age-based withdrawals for participants who are age 59 and 1/2 or older, and withdrawals for financial hardship. If you request a financial hardship withdrawal, you must be able to certify (under penalty of perjury) that you have a financial hardship and that the amount of your request is not greater than the dollar amount of your financial hardship.
Additional information on effects of furlough on TSP can be found at www.tsp.gov.
Q. If a furlough is implemented, who will be responsible for tracking my furlough hours?
A. Organization managers/supervisors will be responsible for tracking and making sure the correct number of hours are entered and certified in either Defense Civilian Payroll System (DCPS) or Automated Time and Attendance System (ATAAPS).
Q. If a furlough is implemented, will I have to come off my compressed work schedule?
A. There is no current Army or TRADOC mandate to change work schedules. However, this is an option that may be considered in impact and implementation bargaining sessions to be conducted across the Army. The DCPS and ATAAPS both are set-up to accept furlough time as a partial day.
Q. May an employee work during a period designated as furlough time off to earn credit hours under a flexible work schedule?
A. No. An employee may not work to earn credit hours during hours or days designated as furlough time off.
Q. May an employee work during a period designated as furlough time off to accumulate religious compensatory time off hours for religious observances?
A. No. An employee may not work during a period designated as furlough time off, even to accrue religious compensatory time.
Q. Are employees entitled to unemployment compensation while on furlough?
A. It is possible that furloughed employees may become eligible for unemployment compensation. State unemployment compensation requirements differ. The Department of Labor's website provides links to individual state offices at www.servicelocator.org/OWSLinks.asp.
Q. If a furlough is implemented, will hardship assistance be provided?
A. The stress that may accompany a furlough is a significant concern. There are several offices available that specialize in providing counseling (Army Community Service -- financial counseling, MFL -- Military Family Life -- provides short-term problem solving, EAP -- Employee Assistance Program). We are investigating the possibility of establishing furlough assistance offices, in partnership with ACS and Civilian Personnel Advisory centers to connect employees with available resources.
Q. If approved for VSIP when do I have to be off the rolls?
A. If your organization is opening or has opened a VSIP window, the deadline to be off the rolls will be specifically addressed in the announcement of the VSIP window.
Q. Can I pull back my approved VSIP?
A. No, under the current TRADOC VSIP agreement, once you have signed the agreement you will not be able to pull back your approved VSIP.
Q. Will the hiring freeze affect hiring exceptions?
A. The previous TRADOC process for hiring exceptions has been replaced by TRADOC OPORD 13-1. All hiring actions are now required to be approved by HQ TRADOC.
Q. What will happen to Human Terrain System employees?
A. HTS positions will continue to be filled if deployed in the theater of operations, subject to availability of funding.
Q. How will DCS G-3/5/7 (Security Assistance Training Field Activity) Foreign Military Sales funding be handled?
A. We are waiting for Army guidance on positions funded through Foreign Military Sales.