Sequestration frequently asked questions:


Government agencies across the board are facing tough budget circumstances and are making tough decisions. While NOAA received additional funding for some mission critical programs through the continuing resolution for FY13, we still face fiscal challenges because of sequestration and rescission. Unfortunately, in order to address budget shortfalls, NOAA has made the difficult decision to consider implementing an agency-wide furlough of up to four days for each NOAA employee, and has accordingly begun consultations with our unions on this matter. 

In the constrained budget environment in which we find ourselves, there are no easy or painless options available. This plan represents NOAA’s best effort to ensure that critical public services are protected and employee impacts are minimized, within the financial resources we have been given. 

1. What is sequestration?

Sequestration is an across-the-board reduction in Federal budgetary resources in all budget accounts that have not been exempted by statute. Under the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, as amended by the Budget Control Act of 2011, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, and other relevant legislation, across-the-board reductions of $85 billion in budgetary resources were required to be ordered by the President on March 1, 2013. Sequestration reduces each agency’s budgetary resources in non-exempt accounts for the remainder of the fiscal year (which runs through September 30, 2013).

2. What will be the impact of sequestration on NOAA?

While the Continuing Resolution signed by President Obama included an appropriations act for NOAA that increased funding for some critical mission areas, programs, and systems, it also leaves us with some serious fiscal challenges in other critical programs, due to the reductions required by the sequestration and rescissions.  For NOAA, this amounted to a mandatory 7 percent reduction from its overall FY13 budget.

3. What will be the impact on NOAA staff?

To meet the broad sequestration goal, NOAA has made the difficult decision to consider implementing an agency-wide furlough of up to four days for each NOAA employee, and has accordingly begun consultations with our unions on this matter. 

Under this proposal, NOAA has taken steps to ensure that  that our most critical life- and property-saving missions are met and any other critical products or services the American public has come to rely upon are provided.

This includes, but isn’t limited to:

4.  How many days will employees be furloughed?  Will the agency close its doors on those days?

We are still evaluating options that will limit impacts to employees, but have proposed up to four furlough days per eligible employee through September 30, 2013.  We are working to ensure that these would be spread among pay periods and months to mitigate financial burdens on our employees.  We are considering shuttering our doors on furlough days – similar to EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for most central offices and labs. It is also important to remember that the email notification sent to NOAA personnel on April 15 is only of the beginning of national consultation with one of NOAA’s unions. Each individual employee is still entitled to – and will receive if this plan is implemented – a furlough notice 30 days before any actual furloughs can be taken.

5. During the designated furlough days, will staff in my local NOAA field office or at NOAA
Headquarters (Washington D.C.) be available to answer my questions or address concerns
that I might have?

If NOAA moves forward with closing facilities on furlough days, these facilities will be closed to the public and employees. In most cases, if you call or email the field office or Headquarters staff, you will hear a voicemail or receive a return email indicating that NOAA is closed.

6. Will NOAA’s National Weather Service still provide forecasts, watches and warnings during furlough days?

Yes.  NWS will continue to provide life- and property-saving forecasts, watches and warnings.  For employees serving in “mission critical” roles (i.e.: law enforcement, forecasters, satellite engineers, ship’s crew, others), arrangements are being made to account for their positions – they likely will take a different furlough day from the rest of NOAA.

7. Are some staff exempt from furloughs? 

Yes.  As uniformed service personnel, NOAA Corps officers will not be furloughed.  In addition, for employees serving in “mission critical” roles (i.e.: law enforcement, forecasters, satellite engineers, others), arrangements are being made to account for their positions – they likely will take a different furlough day from the rest of NOAA.

8.  Where can I get further information about how furloughs work? 

The Office of Personnel Management has a guidance document that may answer some of your questions.
  
9.  Are there resources available to help employees manage the stress of these challenging times?

NOAA provides an Employee Assistance Program, a professional counseling, and referral service for employees.
  
10.  Is this plan final?

No.  Please feel free to discuss your concerns and questions about the plan with your supervisors.  We are consulting and bargaining with labor organizations regarding the plan.  Once we have concluded these important internal processes, and made any changes, the plan would require a reprogramming to be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget and our Congressional Appropriations Committees.

11.  Does the furlough apply to the National Hurricane Center and other critical service providers?

The proposal provides that the furlough would affect all employees equally, except for the NOAA Corps.  Many of NOAA’s operational units provide critical services.  This includes the NHC, satellite operators, law enforcement officials, fishery observers, navigation services, and spill response personnel. Of course, furloughs for all operational units would be managed carefully to insure that adequate coverage is maintained, much like managers currently schedule vacations or sick leave. We will have more details on how this will work after consulting with our employees and working through details. Finally, in the event of a major weather event, an oil spill, a satellite operational problem, a law enforcement emergency, or any other emergency, furloughs can be cancelled for critical employees.

12. Would furloughs apply to employees on detail?   

Employees on detail should talk to their supervisors, but absent special circumstances the furlough will apply. 

13.  How will the furlough apply to contractor employees? 

One of the key questions is how this furlough affects contractors with NOAA offices essentially closed during those four days. Many of NOAA’s contractors work side-by-side with our federal employees, and their efforts are important to us meeting our mission.  Contract employees should talk with their respective employers about the contractual arrangement and individual company policies related to the furlough.

14. What have you done to avoid furloughs?

NOAA implemented an organization-wide hiring freeze on March 27th, in order to save funds.  In addition, a number of reductions were taken to programs in order to absorb sequestration cuts.  These included major reductions to contracts for products and services in all areas of NOAA operations, such as:
Significant reductions to grants and cooperative institutes, including, but not limited to:

Posted: April 16, 2013