FAIRBANKS — Workers at some federal agencies in Alaska will face lengthy, unpaid furloughs in the next six months as part of the sequestration ordered by Congress to cut $85 billion from the federal budget by the end of September.
“To meet the 9 percent reduction by the end of the fiscal year, it now appears that most, if not all, agencies will require personnel furloughs,” Pat Pourchot, the Interior Department’s top Alaska official, said on Monday. “The extent of furloughs will vary among the various agencies due to their particular budget structures, such as how much money goes into salaries as opposed to contracts and other budget components.”
No furloughs are expected for at least a few months, because furlough notices must be given to employees 30 days in advance, and agencies still are scrambling to figure out what cuts to make. Employees in some agencies could face furloughs of 20 days or longer, depending how much of an agency’s budget is devoted to personnel, Pourchot said.
“The total number of (furlough) days for a labor-intensive organization could be in the 20s for each employee before the end of the fiscal year,” he said. “The number of days and the timing of those days needs to be worked out with each agency.”
The fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, which gives agencies just less than seven months to figure out how to cut approximately 9 percent from their annual budgets as part of the sequestration, Pourchot said.
Each agency is facing the same level of cuts, but some agencies have more employees than others, Pourchot said. The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ budget, for example, comes mainly in the form of government contracts and grants to tribal entities as opposed to personnel, Pourchot said. Other agencies, like the U.S. Geological Survey, have most of their budgets devoted to personnel.
Those agencies with personnel-heavy budgets will be subject to the most furloughs, while agencies with fewer personnel will have to figure out other areas to cut to save money, Pourchot said. In the case of the BIA, Pourchot said contracts and grants would be reduced.
“It affects everything from supplies to travel to personnel to government contracts,” he said. “It definitely will have impacts.”
For the military, uniformed personnel will not face furloughs, but a large share of civilian employees will.
At a Pentagon press briefing before the sequester set in, Department of Defense Undersecretary Robert Hall said furloughs are forecast to begin in late April, with the specific employees picked to work fewer hours receiving notifications later this months.
The furloughs are expected to affect most civilian employees with exceptions including civilians in combat zones, foreign-national employees and civilians “who are required to maintain safety of life or property.”
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587. Staff writer Sam Friedman contributed to this report.