The White House budget office has told federal agencies to slow down new hiring, curtail travel and conferences, and to stop doling out bonuses unless absolutely required to by law, according to a new memo released late Wednesday.
Budget office controller Danny Werfel also warned agencies not to use outside contractors to try to get around the new limits on hiring.
The limits on bonuses and trips are unlikely to make a big dent in the $85 billion that agencies will be required to cut over the rest of this year. The Asbury Park Press, a New Jersey newspaper, reported last year that the federal government paid out $439 million in employee bonuses in 2011. Meanwhile, the House oversight committee said that big-dollar conferences amounted to $267.6 million in 2012.
But federal travel is a bigger cost, totaling $14.8 billion in 2012, the oversight committee said.
Departments are preparing to cut their biggest expenditures, which are usually salaries, by furloughing employees and cutting back on contracts.
"Agencies should identify any major contracts that they plan to cancel, re-scope or delay as well as any grants that they plan to cancel, delay, or for which they plan to change the payment amount," Mr. Werfel said. "Similarly, agencies should identify the number of employees who will be furloughed, the length of expected furloughs, the timing of when furlough notices will be issued and the manner in which furloughs will be administered."
The guidance comes with just hours to go before $85 billion in "sequester" cuts are due to begin Friday morning.
Sen. Tom Coburn, Congress's top waste-watcher, has repeatedly called for the government to stop hiring for low-priority positions, pointing to ads over the last week for jobs paying more than $80,000 a year to handle schedules or screen phone calls at the Labor Department, or that pay $26 an hour to be a a driver a thte State Department.
President Obama has warned that the cuts will be felt deeply by all Americans, on everything from schools to border security. Immigration authorities have already released illegal immigrants from detention to begin to save money.
Republicans counter that the effects amount to 2 percent of federal spending and won't be as bad as the White House claims.
But because the cuts are only directed at discretionary spending and won't touch Social Security or other mandatory spending programs, the agencies that are cut will see deeper trims.
Mr. Werfel said domestic agencies will have to cut about 9 percent, and in the defense department, where the troops themselves have been spared, those programs subject to cutting will have to trim 13 percent.
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