Layoffs likely, as Senate proposes steep cuts to FY12 legislative agency budgets

Capitol Hill staff might face layoffs if proposed budget cuts outlined in the Senate’s draft fiscal 2012 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill become reality.

Agreed on by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, the draft legislation proposes to reduce fiscal 2012 funding by $237 million, or 5.2 percent, over 2011 levels.

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Funding for Senate leadership, committee and support would be cut by 6.3 percent, and appropriations for personal offices would be slashed by 3.2 percent. 

“It’s a pretty significant cut,” said Jake Thompson, spokesman for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch subcommittee.

The $4.3 billion proposed appropriation allots more than $863 million to the Senate, a 5.5 percent cut from fiscal 2011 levels.

The funding cuts to leadership, committee and Senate support, as well as personal offices, could mean employment shakeups on Capitol Hill.

Acknowledging the possibility of layoffs in light of reduced funding, Thompson said, “Each office will determine their own staffing levels based on their FY 2012 office account funding.”

Other government agencies will feel the squeeze under the Senate’s proposed bill. The Government Accountability Office had faced a 6.4 percent cut under the House’s FY12 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, approved in July, bringing the total appropriation to $511 million.

Under the Senate’s proposed legislation, the agency could instead see a larger 7.6 percent cut. Allocated $504.5 million, it is far below the $556 million the agency requested.

The Capitol Police force also saw a funding decrease in the proposed Senate appropriation versus approved House levels.

Allocated $340 million in fiscal 2012 — the same as in 2011 — by the House, the Capitol Police might instead have to make due with a 2.6 percent cut, or over $8 million less.

“At this funding level, the U.S. Capitol Police would be funded at the current staffing level of 1,775 sworn officers and 370 civilians rather than the requested 1,800 sworn officers and 380 civilians,” according to Senate appropriation documents. 

“The bill would fund overtime at $33.7 million, a level that is adjusted for overtime savings realized in FY 2011,” the documents say.

The Capitol Police would not address the Senate’s proposed cuts, but said the department would “utilize the funds provided by the Congress to maintain robust security,” wrote spokeswoman Sgt. Kim Schneider.

The biggest potential funding loser by far, though, is the Architect of the Capitol (AoC). Allocated $489 million by the House for FY12, the agency could see its funding slashed by the Senate down to $387 million, a 14 percent cut over the previous fiscal year.

“The bill would reduce the funding level for salaries by 7 percent, and defers all construction that is not directly related to safety, fire and environmental remediation,” according to appropriation documents.

The proposed funding level for the AoC is a staggering $231 million less than the $618 million requested for FY12. The AoC declined to comment on the effects this funding cut could have for the agency.

A few agencies saw a slight uptick in proposed Senate funding, however.

The Library of Congress (LoC), allotted $575 million by the House, was allocated $579 million by the Senate for FY12. But even that small funding bump might not prove enough for the Library.

“The LoC has begun implementation of a Voluntary Separation Program,” according to the draft Senate documents. “Given the funding level proposed, the Library will not be able to absorb all budget cuts through this voluntary program, and will need to pursue additional cost-reduction measures, including furloughs and the possibility of [reductions-in-force].”

The Government Printing Office (GPO) faced a 16.3 percent funding reduction under House legislation, but fared better with the Senate, which suggested a 13.5 percent reduction instead. That would bring the agency’s 2012 funding to nearly $117 million, still significantly less than the $148 million requested for the fiscal year.

“While less than we requested, the Senate Appropriations Committee has recommended a higher level of funding for GPO than provided by the House,” wrote GPO spokesman Gary Somerset in an email.

But neither will that be enough to save the GPO from necessary workforce reduction. In June, the agency announced that it would offer buyouts and early outs to employees in response to government cutbacks. 

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William Boarman, public printer of the United States, told The Hill in June that nearly 1,000 GPO employees would be eligible for the lump-sum buyout payments of up to $25,000 as the agency aimed to reduce its workforce by 15 percent, or 330 positions.

“This is the first year I’ve seen where they just ignored not only us, but the [Library of Congress], the [Government Accountability Office], everybody, and just said, ‘It doesn’t matter what you need, this is all you’re going to get,’ ” Boarman said at the time. 

Subcommittee Chairman Nelson defended the proposed funding cuts. 

“With our economy still in trouble and spending in Washington still much too high, Congress needs to lead by example and cut its own budget,” he wrote in a statement.

“These cuts are strategic and sensible. But make no mistake, they are real and will force Congress and the agencies on Capitol Hill to live with less,” he added. “As Congress works to bring down federal spending, bring down the debt and balance the federal budget, Congress must tighten its own belt.” 

The Senate has yet to determine when the proposed appropriations bill will go to the floor. “It’s at the discretion of leadership,” said one committee staffer.

According to Nelson’s office, “it’s not yet clear” when the bill will be voted on, but a source puts the date as likely later this fall.

Lawmakers have also yet to announce any plans for amendments to the legislation proposing to cut member pay.

“At this point, there’s been no discussions,” said Luke Bolar, spokesman for Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who put forward a bill earlier this year to do away with the automatic pay increase process and force Congress to vote to increase its pay.

Updated at 7:49 p.m.