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'Furlough Friday' hits US federal employees

25 may 2013, 11:49
0
©REUTERS/Jason Reed
©REUTERS/Jason Reed
The first day of US government furloughs imposed by a budget crunch saw more than 100,000 federal workers ordered to stay home Friday, including those at the scandal-plagued IRS, AFP reports.

The largest non-weather-related US government closure in years saw nearly all employees at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, the White House's Office of Management and Budget and the Internal Revenue Service placed on unpaid leave.

The total number of furloughed personnel amounts to roughly 115,000, some five percent of the federal workforce, an administration official said.

The closure is the first of what is expected to be several holidays without pay ordered by federal authorities as they contend with a package of across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.

The $85 billion in cuts took effect on March 1, and while lawmakers passed legislation allowing some flexibility to determine which military programs get spared the axe, sequestration cuts government spending by five percent.

In the Pentagon the cuts are deeper -- about eight percent -- and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has warned that his civilian staff of some 800,000 will be furloughed for 11 days this year, with the first day on July 8.

Carl Levin, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned Thursday that sequestration would have a disastrous effect on the military, adding it was "baffling" that some Republicans hail the cuts as a victory in the battle to tame the national debt.

At the IRS, where a scandal erupted this month after agents were found to have inappropriately screened conservative groups applying for tax exempt status, most of the agency's 90,000 employees were off.

Some 8,700 HUD employees stayed home Friday too, a department official said, although some emergency personnel were on duty, as they were at other agencies.

With Congress battling over mandatory budget cuts, some worry that the forced holidays could hurt employee morale and have real consequences on government operations.

"Certainly having four agencies with locked doors is not a good thing, said Bill Dougan, head of the National Federation of Federal Employees.

"These agencies provide services every day that the ... citizens of the country need," he said, adding he was "very worried" about the prospect of more furloughs next year if Congress keeps the budget cuts in place.

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