GAO avoids layoffs amid budget shortfall

The Government Accountability Office announced Wednesday that it plans to suspend programs and institute potential furloughs in order to cut more than $44 million from its fiscal year 2012 budget request.
The agency is faced with a potential funding cut of between $35 and $42 million over the previous year, and had been rumored to be considering layoffs or the closing of field offices as a potential solution to the budget crunch.
Instead, GAO Comptroller General Gene Dodaro announced that the agency will suspend all but the most essential replacement hiring, for the first time bringing the employee count below 3,000.

“This will bring our staffing count down 375 positions, or 11%, over the two year period, meaning $21 million in savings,” he wrote in a statement.
Dodaro also notified GAO employees that up to six agency-wide furlough days could be needed, depending on the agency’s final budget.
“Shared sacrifice spread as evenly as possible across the organization would be better and actually less disruptive than choosing to shut down a field office or terminating a significant number of other positions,” he added.
The House approved an FY12 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill in July, funding the GAO at $511 million, a 6.4 percent cut from FY11. But the Senate has proposed a steeper 7.6 percent cut for the agency of $504.5 million, a figure far below the $556 million the GAO requested.
The Senate’s draft fiscal 2012 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill was agreed on by the Senate Appropriations Committee in mid-September, but a final bill has yet to be passed.
Dodaro stated that it was important to take action prior to budget finalization to maximize savings.
“The longer we wait to make decisions, the greater the impact those decisions will have on our people,” he wrote. “If we don’t implement our cost reductions early in the fiscal year, the size of those reductions will automatically increase for the simple fact that we will have less time remaining in the year in which to achieve the financial benefits of those decisions.”
The agency had already taken steps to cut back prior to Wednesday’s announcement.  The GAO had 37 employees accept a voluntary separation incentive payment, or buyout, and another 5 accept voluntary early retirement in September, according to the agency’s managing director of public affairs, Chuck Young.
The GAO’s other plans for cost savings in FY12 include a $7.5 million reduction in information technology, a reduction in funding for travel, training and the student loan repayment program, the elimination of 22 contractor positions within the human capital office, and the closure of the agency’s technical library and law library.
The agency is also aiming to pilot new approaches as it identifies additional savings in years to come.
According to Dodaro, the GAO will negotiate with the union to institute a much more liberal telework policy in one or more of its 11 field offices. This pilot program will explore office-sharing and hoteling, and will inform applicability to other parts of the agency.
The agency will also consider bringing video conference capability to every worker’s desktop, he added.
“These are difficult times,” Dodaro wrote. “But I also know that GAO has been through difficult times before ... we come through such challenges able to continually provide an incredibly valuable service to the Congress and to our Nation. I know we’ll do so again.”