Report finds one federal layoff from sequester

A new government report has found that last year’s sequester led to only one federal layoff, a conclusion that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said Wednesday was an outrage.

Coburn said the finding from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is more proof that the Obama administration and its allies overhyped the effects of the automatic budget cuts, and in a letter to Obama budget director Sylvia Burwell, he demanded an official report on the government’s sequestration response.

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“The Budget Control Act is the law of the land until Fiscal Year 2021, so it is essential to have a complete understanding of how agencies manage their workforces and operations in this constrained fiscal environment,” Coburn wrote.

He asked for a complete list of federal civilian employees and “a list of all departments or agencies that have implemented a reduction in force due to sequestration.”

Buried in a GAO report from March is a finding that in all of the federal government, the Justice Department alone laid off one staff member as a result of the $80.5 billion in automatic spending cuts implemented in 2013 as a result of the sequester.

The Obama administration and Democrats last year claimed that sequestration would be devastating to the government and to the wider economy. Republicans have repeatedly questioned those claims, calling them scare tactics.

Coburn said the one layoff reported by the GAO is a stark contrast with estimates from both the Congressional Budget Office and Goldman Sachs that suggested it would lead to far more job losses.

“The facts seem to say the experts overestimated sequestration’s impact by between 99,999 and 1,599,999 jobs, according to two frequently-cited estimates by Goldman Sachs and the Congressional Budget Office,” Coburn said.

The Goldman report estimated a 100,000 reduction in federal payrolls, a different figure than a prediction of layoffs.

The White House budget office said Wednesday it stands by its statements that the sequester was damaging and cited a CBO report that estimated fully canceling the sequester in October 2013 would have resulted in 800,000 more jobs being created by October 2014.

“There is no question that sequestration had a significant negative impact on the American people and our economy,” OMB spokesman Steve Posner said, pointing out that the GAO found agencies were forced to implement pay cuts and curtail hiring and training. 

The GAO reported that 19 federal agencies reduced hiring in order to respond to the sequester and that seven agencies furloughed more than 770,000 employees for one to seven days.

Posner added that the GAO report says one-time “flexibilities” used in 2013 will not be available in the future and more damage could result when the sequester returns in fiscal 2016.

A two year-budget deal partially rolled back budget cuts planned for 2014 and 2015, but the full sequester is set to return unless Congress votes for higher spending levels in 2016.