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Sequester-Driven Layoffs, Furloughs Possible on Hill

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Gainer is preparing his staff for the sequester’s effects.

If the sequester comes to pass, officials warn that the country’s defense operations would be significantly weakened. So would the security systems in place on Capitol Hill.

On Thursday, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer summoned his nearly 925 employees to break the news that the looming automatic spending cuts could necessitate furloughs and layoffs, the first in institutional memory for the department.

“You can’t sugarcoat bad information,” Gainer told CQ Roll Call on Thursday afternoon.

Gainer reported to his team that depending on how much of a cut the Office of the Sergeant-at-Arms is forced to make, management could be looking at a salary shortfall of $4 million to $5 million and general expense reductions of $7 million. Those numbers would only increase over time, Gainer said, noting that his department has already shaved $22 million from its budget over the past three years.

“They’ve all been working very hard,” Gainer said of his team, which includes Senate security officers and officials, information technology specialists and staffers working on a range of administrative tasks. “There have not been raises, we’ve [frozen] hiring, we’ve cut back on some of our contracts and buying, and I don’t know what, if any, relief we’ll have.

“But the organization in the next 10 years will not look like that of the last three years or five years,” he continued. “We’re all going to have to do the proverbial ‘more with less.’”

The determination of whether to trigger layoffs and furloughs — every employee would probably have to take one day of unpaid leave per month beginning in April — would depend on how many employees choose to take advantage of a Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment program. The program, announced Thursday morning, would give most employees a financial reward for retiring from the department.

Employees have until Feb. 28 to take advantage of the program, and they would have to retire by April 30.

Gainer said Thursday that employees were already beginning to request retirement paperwork, something he called a good sign given the grim alternatives.

As for where he might look to lay off employees if it becomes necessary, Gainer said the chamber’s overall security will not fall victim to the budget knife. Nor, he said, will information technology security be affected, especially as cybersecurity threats increase.

But the general reduction in manpower would hit home not only for the stretched-thin Senate Sergeant-at-Arms staff, but also for the lawmakers and their staffers who rely on support services that Gainer’s team provides.

The Capitol Police is also looking to make changes that could lead to inconveniences for the people who work on Capitol Hill.

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