Agencies warn federal employees to prepare for ‘fiscal cliff’ cuts

Federal government agency heads on Thursday warned workers of possible furloughs next year due to the "fiscal cliff."

Deficit talks between House Republicans and the White House have hit the rocks and sudden, massive tax increases and spending cuts are possible after Jan. 1. 

A memo being circulated warns that the $109 billion in automatic cuts for 2013 that form part of the fiscal cliff may result in staff being sent home without pay.

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“First and foremost, it is important to keep in mind that the administration remains focused on working with Congress to reach agreement on a balanced deficit reduction plan that avoids such cuts,” a draft of the memo obtained by The Hill states. “Nevertheless, with only a couple of weeks left before sequestration could occur should a deal not be reached, it is important to clarify the potential implications.”

The memo says that the “cuts, while significant and harmful to our collective mission as an agency, would not necessarily require immediate reductions in spending.”

“This means that we will not be executing any immediate personnel actions, such as furloughs, on that date,” it states. But such “actions,” which in the past have referred to layoffs, could come later, the memo drafted by the Office of Personnel Management states.

“Should we have to operate under reduced funding levels for an extended period of time, we may have to consider furloughs or other actions in the future,” it states.

Obama administration officials told union leaders in a Wednesday conference call that they are still optimistic that a deal can get done, but they wanted to start preparing workers for what may lie ahead. They especially wanted to dispel misunderstandings that there could be a government shutdown in January, as has happened when Congress failed to pass appropriations bills in years past. 

“The administration officials that briefed [National Treasury Employees Union] NTEU remained hopeful that an agreement could be reached that would prevent a sequester from moving forward on Jan. 2 and also indicated that an agreement any time after Jan. 2 could immediately cancel a sequester. My hope is that the sequester will be averted before it harms agency operations, missions and critical public services,” said NTEU President Colleen Kelley.