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Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Buyout Might Soften Sequester Effects

The sequester hasn’t spared Capitol Hill, with lawmakers taking hits to their office expense accounts and police officers losing some overtime pay, and the Office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms is no exception.

But for many of the 975 employees who fill security and administrative roles for the Senate’s chief law enforcement officer, Terrance W. Gainer, things might not be as grim as they once seemed.

Gainer has told CQ Roll Call that almost 80 members of his team have expressed interest in taking advantage of a Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment program, or buyout, which would give individuals a financial reward for retiring by the end of April.

These employees had until Feb. 28 to decide whether they wanted to take buyouts but can change their minds and opt to stay with the legislative branch any time before April 30.

According to Gainer, however, if all, or at least the vast majority, of the people currently exploring the buyout option follow through, it could eliminate the need to impose across-the-board furloughs of one leave day per month per employee.

“Some people have put in requests, some people have withdrawn them already,” Gainer explained. “But in theory, if all the people who have indicated that they would take retirement take retirement, we’ll be in a very good position to meet the salary reduction that is laid upon us without furloughs.

“But we’re really not going to know until the process has been completed,” he cautioned. Gainer added that the details of the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program also have to pass muster with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and the Office of Personnel Management. Neither entity is likely to put the brakes on the plan, however.

Gainer also warned that just because there might not be furloughs doesn’t mean there might not be layoffs, another move he said in mid-February might have to be taken to meet the demands of the sequester.

“There still could be some reductions in force based on restructuring of the organization” after the departure of 80 employees from a variety of departments, Gainer said.

In the House, the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms handles only law enforcement activities and the chief administrative officer supervises the employees who fill a variety of administrative and support roles, including those involving information technology.

In the Senate, however, the sergeant-at-arms is responsible for overseeing all of these functions, meaning that those staffers taking early retirement will come from disparate departments and leave gaps in multiple areas of the workforce. Management will have to decide how to make up for loss of experience and institutional knowledge and streamline operations on a tight budget.

“This has really forced us to concentrate on, ‘Are we structured the right way? Are all the skill sets still needed?’” Gainer said. “I think what we’ve found is, with some reorganization, we’d be able to combine some leadership positions or skills that were valid and needed 15 years ago that may not be needed today. We can see if there’s another place in the organization where that’s needed.”

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