By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun
1:48 PM EST, February 28, 2013
WASHINGTON -- Officials at the Woodlawn-based Social Security Administration informed employees they do not anticipate furloughs when across-the-board federal budget cuts go into effect, the union that represents many of those workers said Thursday.
The announcement came days before $85 billion in budget cuts known as sequestration were expected to take effect on Friday -- cuts that the Obama administration has warned could lead to government-wide furloughs. Acting Social Security Administration commissioner Carolyn Colvin informed employees in a meeting on Thursday that furloughs would be avoided.
A spokesman at the agency did not respond to a request for more information.
Employees asked about the possibility of furloughs during a public meeting Monday at the agency's headquarters with Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat. At the time agency employees had not received guidance about whether such staffing reductions would be necessary.
The agency employs more than 11,800 people in Maryland.
But Colvin continued to warn of delays for Social Security customers, including longer wait times for hearing determinations or for people calling the agency's hotline to ask a question. The agency will layoff temporary employees and retired staffers who are still working at the agency. Overtime and travel will also be frozen.
The announcement is the latest indication that initial dire warnings of economic impact from sequestration made by the Obama administration may have been overstated. Democrats have softened their language in recent days on the impact and Republicans are increasingly looking to lock the sequestration cuts in as part of a broader deal to fund the government through the end of the year.
It's not clear for how long Social Security would be able to avoid furloughs.
The Internal Revenue Service, meanwhile, said that it does anticipate furloughing employees for between five to seven days this summer, according to a union that represents those workers. Federal employees are generally are entitled to a 30-days notice before furloughs are put into place.
"None of these developments is good for the agency, for employees or for taxpayers," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. "IRS employees are middle class workers who have had their pay frozen for over two years. Those furloughs will hurt their ability to pay their bills and serve the public."
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