The sequester (i.e., across the board spending cuts) will be implemented today. Furloughs are not expected until April at the earliest, however, individual agencies may phase-in furloughs at different times and some may be able to avoid furloughs completely. The US Office of Management & Budget is expected to provide specific agency-by-agency details later today.
The sequester will be applied to program funding accounts. This will allow some flexibility to program managers although they won’t be able to shift funds from one account to another. For example, the USDA-NIFA flagship competitive grants program, AFRI, will be subject to the same percentage reduction as the National Plant Diagnostic Network.
Negotiations between the President and republican and democratic congressional leaders will continue although it is doubtful a deal will be achieved. Several members of congress have introduced a variety of so-called “agency flexibility” bills that would grant some measure of flexibility for agencies to prioritize the cuts.
In the meantime, leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees are piecing together an omnibus continuing resolution that would provide appropriations through September 2013. This legislation must be enacted by 27 March 2013 to keep the government operating; failure to enact a continuing resolution by that time will result in a government shut-down.
As the continuing resolution is considered, there will be some attempts to replace the sequester with specific funding cuts (e.g., Senate democrats proposed recently to eliminate direct farm payments as one means of raising funds sufficient to avoid a sequester). However, the path of least resistance for congressional democrats and republicans may well be to allow the sequester to stay in place.
Stay tuned for more information.