Sequestration: Why can't agencies cut down on anything other than salaries and wages?

Congress’s addiction to budget chicken games have led to another round of threats. Whenever there are Federal budget cuts looming on the horizon, the buzz is on all of the people who will lose their jobs or have their pay cut because of the cut. Why don’t we hear about how Federal agencies have to scale down on land or equipment? Are choosing to not buy so much toilet paper for the bathrooms in Federal buildings, selling off some land, reducing the frequency of oil changes for tanks, or buying cheaper guns in lieu of laying off or furloughing personnel not options?

Options other than furloughs will be used. Some departments will have no choice but to enact furlougs, and laying somebody off results in immediate savings. And why don’t these other options get a lot of media attention? Because people care about paychecks more than a ream of paper.


Most of the “supply side” expenses are “fixed” in the sense that they are obligated to pay $X by contract or necessity. For example, if I want lease a company car I create a contract for Y number of years. If I break it before the lease is up, I have to pay a penalty. Same thing with office space, office supplies, fuel etc.

It’s not just the government, though. The corporate world is the same way. A while back the bean counters figured out that it is easier to cut people than assets, so nobody has any job security any more. We live in a world where company loyalty is a liability.

Because the cuts are stupid and draconian and aren’t done smartly because it was supposed to be draconian as a last resort. Some agencies are more personnel-driven than others, so they will be more likely to furlough people than others. Not all agencies will have to furlough people.

not to be snarky, but seriously?
of course other things are cut before labor costs. I suspect that you haven’t heard of it simply because it is so obvious no one bothered to mention it. No one, not even mean old capitalists, like laying off people. Some folks get used to it, but no one likes it. If there are alternatives, those alternatives happen first.
The problem is that that labor is a budget line item. The law requires it to be cut. Regardless of other cuts. And if you are going to write a story about cuts, what would you write about? reduced paper supplies or laid off people?
The first thing that happened when the cuts went in to effect is that the treasury reprogramed their computers to cut all grants by some %. So the farm subsidies, highway funds, research grants, etc that aren’t protected were cut first thing. Millions of cuts are being implemented. But they can’t cut their utility payments (for instance), while DoD (and I am sure other agencies) are slowing down their payments to their suppliers eventually the bills will get paid. Just like your bills have to be.

The big problem with what is happening is that wasteful spending is getting cutting the same % as necessary spending. That is the stupidity of the law. Programs that are essentially useless if one cuts 10% from them (say a ship cruise to pick one example, what good is it to launch with 90% of the fuel?) get their 90% of the budget but don’t spend it (wisely) because they can’t. But most of the money is locked in to that account. The law doesn’t allow managers to add money to the account. Say several ships are going to sail, logically you sail with 1 fewer ship and make do. Can’t. You can lay one ship up, but you can’t transfer those savings to the other accounts. The law requires the other accounts to be cut 10%. regardless of whether savings exist to fund them. So no one sails and everyone has 90% of their budget to do something with. Lets leave it to your imagination about how well that money is going to be spent.

as Obama says: dumb.

To clarify and reiterate, almost nothing about the sequester is known in advance. My ship example above is made up. But it makes my point.

To amplify a point that rbroome made in passing, the structure of the budget of each agency can be different, so how the cuts are implemented may apply somewhat differently from one agency to another. The law mandates that an equal cut be taken to each “program, project, and activity.”

In the Army, the entire operation and maintenance budget is considered one program. That program funds civilian salaries, contract workforce, utilities, training, repair of equipment, and several other things. In this case, the Army has chosen to try to protect training as much as possible, which means everything else funded in that program may get cut a little more – including office supplies, contractors, leases for buildings, etc.

In another agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Salaries and Expenses” is one program. There is very little flexibility there to trade off a cut in order to protect something else.

Therefore, some agencies have very little flexibility to protect people, other agencies have more flexibility, but may have higher priorities that need to be protected in the same program.

Ie, the sequestration is stupid.

Fed checking in.

You can read the OMB report to Congress issued last Friday (01 March 2013) here:
Download PDF copy here:
The report details salary and non-salary cuts across the board. The corporate media focuses on salaries because that sells the most newspapers and has the most direct (and some say inflammatory) impact upon people. What you don’t see, and what the corporate media often does not report, are the continuous cutbacks federal agencies have endured for the past several years. If the corporate media does report anything, they use the euphemism “belt-tightening” without offering specifics. When it comes to government spending the devil really is in the details and the corporate media is either uneducated, unable, or deliberately unwilling to do investigative journalism and report the details.

Anything beyond that is GD material (and there is plenty of that). FWIW, I don’t support the shenanigans of Congress at all. However, if sequestration is all Congress can muster and inflict this needless pain upon the country, then bring it on. Political rhetoric is easily dispensed and finger pointing takes little effort. Actual honest governance is very difficult and if the American People voted these nuts into office, they deserve what they get.

Both parties have known about this, as well as every single agency out there, for a good long while. Well before any agency even thought about passing their own budget.

Now, I’m not condoning or defending anyone other than me saying that.

If someone told me that I’d be losing 10% of my money in two years, I think I would adjust well before the deadline.

Well, Mitt Romney does, so he tells us.

One rather gets the impression from “The Apprentice” that Donald Trump does too.

In my agency, there are really minimal administrative expenses other than payroll and rent/property maintenance. You really cannot effect much savings by cutting everything other than salaries and office space. Of course, to state the obvious, you cannot achieve any meaningful reductions by curring administrative costs and not benefits…

I’ve long thought the potential for such savings a huge argument in favor of flexible work schedules, work-at-home, etc. But there are perceptual issues of the employee at home not working, managers not knowing how to manage employees out-of-office, and the need to protect personally identifiable information.

What if someone told you that you MIGHT lose 10% of your money? What if someone told you that you MIGHT lose ALL of your money on September 30 of every year, as is the case under Federal budgeting laws?

I’ve noticed that whenever government agencies are threatened with cuts they tend to go for the most public and public affecting strategies first. When the department of wildlife management (or whatever it is called) was threatened with a small cut they immediately announced canceling hunting seasons. Schools immediately threaten teachers etc. That way, they think, people will be less inclined to enforce the cuts then if they said they could cut admin or something transparent to the public.

This is why any public agency that enforced budget cuts should be ‘audited’ to see if they did a good job trying to make the effect as little as possible on the public. If it is found they didn’t, then fired enmasse and replaced with more competent people.

Assuming the auditing department’s budget hadn’t been cut, of course.

“We’re going to tell you to do something bizarrely, incredibly stupid with your budget, but if you don’t do an excellent job, we’ll fire you…”
Guaranteed to attract the best and the brightest into the lower-paying civil service.

Too true.

Apart from the details (what constitutes “good job”?) the other problem is that the only flexible items in most programs are salaries. Office rents are not subject to month-by-month change, nor are other supplies, like electrical, car rental, gas, etc. - unless you want to pass a law that allows the government to dictate what they will payy free market suppliers. Good luck with that!

They screw the employees because they can. In the short run, employees have minimal flexibility. In the long run, they attract the talent they deserve.

(I recall working for a large manufacturer many years ago, the major employer in a in a small town. Times were tough, so they laid off most of the plant workers for a 2-month shutdown ; “go collect Unemployment Insurance”. Someone related their conversation with the head office in the big city:
“Why don’t they lay off the head office workers for 2 months also?”
“Are you kidding?” said the head office bean-counter. “If we did, they’d all quit and go work somewhere else!”)

[moderator note]
Please keep in mind which forum you’re in, computergeek. This isn’t an appropriate response for GQ.
[/moderator note]

check out Duckster’s links in post #9.
How long would it take to “audit” those cuts? Who writes the rules defining “little as possible”. Who would do the auditing? Do they have the staff? Why do they have that staff? They just went through the same cuts everyone else did. How about hiring some consultants? :slight_smile:
And when the auditors reached a determination, how does one go about firing them enmasse? Do you fire just the senior managers who have to sign the decisions for the cuts? Fire everyone figuring at least you would get rid of whoever was in charge? I am sure you could get new people to take the jobs, but what do you do for the year or so it would take for them to learn how to do the job? Can you find a surviving government official who will take responsibility for the mistakes of all the new hires? Some government jobs exist to protect people. When the auditors find that the FDA managers didn’t meet the “little as possible” rule and the new drug safety officers sit down at their desks, will the public be OK with a few mistakes along the learning curve?

One issue is that many agencies have lived under continuing resolutions for two years. So they haven’t had the opportunity to adjust for changing times.
And of course even if they could adjust, they would want to raise their budget 10% to prepare. No one gets to do that without taking on more responsibilities-which will have to be handled after the cuts. Nevertheless, anyone who could do this did. It isn’t rocket science. I suspect we won’t hear much about those lucky folks who navigated these waters successfully.