Saturday, April 27, 2013

Senate Bill Seeks to Suspend Sequestration at All Agencies

April 26, 2013
Senate Bill Seeks to Suspend Sequestration at All Agencies: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week introduced a bill that would suspend the across-the-board cuts for the rest of the fiscal year. The senator called on members of Congress to come together to stop the devastating cuts to crucial programs that hurt veterans, seniors, children and the country's research and development. Reid's bill, however, would not permanently end sequestration, which is scheduled to take place over the next 10 years.
"This bill would give Democrats and Republicans time to sit down at the negotiating table and work out an agreement to reduce the deficit in a balanced way," Reid said. "And it wouldn't add a penny to the deficit. It would use the savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to prevent cuts that will harm our national security and our economy."

Updated List of Agencies with No Plans to Furlough Employees: Agriculture (Meat and Poultry inspectors and employees at the Farm Service Agency won't be furloughed. Rural Development Administration employees could be furloughed for up to 10 days), Broadcasting Board of Governors, CDC, CIS, Coast Guard, FPS, FEMA, GPO, ICE, Justice, National Institute of Health, OSHA, SBA, SSA, State, TSA , and VA (exempt from sequestration).

126 House Lawmakers Sign AFGE-Backed Letter Opposing DoD Furloughs: One hundred and twenty six House members from both sides of the aisle have sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, urging him to rethink the personnel actions that have been announced in the wake of sequestration. The letter was authored by Rep. Adam Smith, who is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, and spearheaded by AFGE, which represents more than 270,000 DoD civilian employees. In the letter, dated April 23, lawmakers urge Hagel to review the Pentagon's plans to furlough nearly every civilian employee for 14 days, systematically fire temporary and term employees, and freeze new employee hiring. Senior Department officials have acknowledged that furloughs will undermine readiness and increase costs to taxpayers. AFGE members were instrumental in gathering signatures from representatives in their districts.

"We are heartened that so many lawmakers are going on record with their support for the work that civilian employees do," AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. "Our civilian employees are vital to ensuring the safety and security of the military mission, and the Pentagon needs to stop targeting civilian personnel. Furloughing any employee is bad policy on its face, but requiring blanket furloughs across the department is downright ludicrous."

Justice Not to Furlough Employees: The Justice Department this week got a green light from House and Senate appropriators to shift funds within the department to cover federal employees' salaries in order to avoid furloughs for the rest of the fiscal year.
"After careful review of our current financial situation and the additional funding we received in the final FY 2013 bill, combined with aggressive steps to freeze hiring and cut contracting and other costs, I am able to announce that the department will not need to furlough any employees this fiscal year due to sequestration," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a department-wide memo.

Congress Passes Bill to Stop Furloughs of Air Traffic Controllers: Congress on Friday passed a bill to stop the furloughs of air traffic controllers after thousands of flights were delayed and cancelled due to the furloughs which started April 21. The bill, however, did nothing to fix the threat of sequestration in other areas.

"This week, Americans began to feel the negative impact of the irresponsible spending cuts known as the sequester when flight controllers were furloughed, leading to airport delays across the country," said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland. "Unfortunately, instead of responding to this with a balanced solution to our deficits that turns off the entire sequester, Congress voted to only address its impact on the FAA. This bill did nothing to end the sequester's impacts on our children, seniors and military, among others. We should be working on a balanced solution that removes these irresponsible cuts for all Americans, not just in one area."

Furloughs Delay Justice for Boston Bombing Victims: The criminal case against the suspect of the Boston Marathon Bombing is likely to be delayed because the Massachusetts federal public defender's office is facing 16 ½ furlough days due to sequestration. Public Defender offices across the country are facing an average of 21 furlough days as the judiciary's budget has been cut nearly $350 million for this fiscal year, resulting in layoffs or furloughs of 2,000 employees.

"What it means is … justice is delayed," David Patton, the executive director of the New York public defender's office, told Politico. "You can't do the same with less. You just can't." Patton's office had asked for delays in the trial of bin Laden's son-in-law who's being charged with conspiring to kill Americans.

Sequestration had already affected the cases the Boston legal defense team were handling even before it took on the defense of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Miriam Conrad, head of the Public Defender Office in Massachusetts, told the Boston Globe her office could hire outside attorneys to help handle cases, but that would cost even more money.

Victims of Workplace Discrimination to Face Longer Wait Due to Furloughs at EEOC: Employees suffering from workplace discrimination are already waiting more than nine months to have their cases heard, but they will now have to wait even longer because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is furloughing employees for 8 days due to budget cuts. The agency also refused to cut waste in the face of reduced budgets. EEOC currently has a backlog of over 70,000 cases and the furloughs and shortage of staff would cause the backlog to grow by nearly 40%. The EEOC has been receiving more cases every year during the past three years; it received nearly 100,000 cases in fiscal 2012 alone. Sequestration and recessions slashed about $25 million from EEOC's $370 million annual budget.  Gabrielle Martin, president of the AFGE National Council of EEOC Locals No.216, said the agency had been severely underfunded for years even before sequestration kicked in, and that's not fair to the EEOC employees and those facing discrimination.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," Martin said. "Congress needs to properly fund the agency so we can do our job."

Sylvia Burwell Confirmed to Head OMB: The Senate this week unanimously confirmed Sylvia Burwell to be the next director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Burwell was most recently head of the Walmart Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the retailer. She worked at the White House, Treasury Department, and OMB under the Clinton administration.

VA IG's Report on Legionnaires Outbreak Doesn't Go Far Enough: AFGE today issued the following statement regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General report on the Legionnaires outbreak within the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System.

"We believe the report does not go far enough in determining why hospital management and VISN leadership did not do more once they discovered the problem back in 2011," said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. "The report goes into great detail about the function of the water system and the history of Legionnaires disease, but it leaves us wondering, given all that the VA knows about Legionella, why weren't our veterans and health care workers fully protected from this outbreak? We're also stunned to learn VISN 4 Director Michael Moreland received a generous bonus while this outbreak occurred on his watch. Nurses, doctors, support staff and others are forced to do more with less in order to care for our vets, while executives are rewarded for mismanagement. This has to end."

Austerity Debunked: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is a big fan of two Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, whose 2010 paper "Growth In A Time of Debt" concluded that countries with public debt in excess of 90% of GDP suffered measurably slower economic growth. Ryan and other lawmakers here in the U.S. and Europe have cited this research in their push to force devastating government spending cuts for the past few years. The paper was actually at the heart of Ryan's fiscal 2013 "Path to Prosperity" budget proposal. Ryan's 2014 budget, which has already passed the House, eliminates the budget deficit over the next decade. But now the R&R paper has been widely discredited by local and international economists, who dispute R&R's claim that heavy debt loads slow economic growth. A recent study by two French economists even concluded that average economic growth is higher for countries with public debt above 115% of GDP. Currently, the U.S.'s debt-to-GDP ratio stands at roughly 105% of the $15.8 trillion economy.

R&R's paper was dealt a major blow last week when three academics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst published a paper detailing how R&R's selective exclusion of available data, coding errors and unconventional weighting of statistics led to wrong
conclusions. The economists – Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin – find that the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90% is actually 2.2%, not -0.1% as R&R claim. The R&R paper implies that debt leads to slow growth when in fact there is no evidence. Other economists have suggested that it's actually the other way around. Josh Bivens and John Irons made this case at the Economic Policy Institute. Princeton economist Paul Krugman has also pointed it out.

"RR's incorrect stylized fact has contributed substantially to ensuring that "traditional debt management issues should be at the forefront of public policy concerns" (RR 2010a p. 578).," said the University of Massachusetts academics. "Specifically, RR's findings have served as an intellectual bulwark in support of austerity politics. The fact that RR's findings are wrong should therefore lead us to reassess the austerity agenda itself in both Europe and the United States."

Which Is Why Europe Is Now Turning Its Back on Spending Cuts: European Commission President José Manuel Barroso this week declared that austerity was not the best approach to solving Europe's economic problems anymore. Barroso's comment comes as new figures shows some of the euro-zone countries with the most aggressive austerity programs were having the least success in narrowing their deficits. Barroso said austerity "has reached its limits. A policy to be successful not only has to be properly designed; it has to have the minimum of political and social support."

Spanish Finance Minister Luis de Guindos said his budget proposal presented this week will not focus on spending cuts but economic growth.
"What we are going to do now is strike a better balance between deficit reduction and economic growth," de Guindos said.

This Week's Graph: The two gray bars show how the economy tends to go into recession when the U.S. government tightens its belt way too much by rapidly reducing the deficit. Read University of Missouri-Kansas City economist Stephanie Kelton's explanation on her blog here.

This Week's Tweet: "Hearing on long-term unemployment kicks off with... *one* lawmaker in attendance." ~ @nirajc

(That lone lawmaker was Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota who was holding the hearing in her role as the vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee. Klobuchar was later joined by three colleagues: Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Rep. John Delaney of Maryland and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. All four are Democrats.)

This Week's YouTube Video: 28-year old PhD student debunks the most influential austerity study.

This Week in Labor History: April 25, 1886 - The New York Times declares the struggle for an 8-hour workday to be "un-American" and calls public demonstrations for the shorter hours "labor disturbances brought about by foreigners." Other publications declare that an eight-hour workday day would bring about "loafing and gambling, rioting, debauchery and drunkenness".

Inside Government: Tune in now to AFGE's "Inside Government" for a discussion on workplace safety. The show, which originally aired on Friday, April 26, is now available on demand.

Michael Meserve, Vice President
Western Region, Federal Bureau of Prisons
Council of Prison Locals #33
Phone: 808 780-3097
Fax: 855 234-3275

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