Sequestration Cynicism

Just when you thought the sequestration process couldn't get more cynical.


Just when you thought the sequestration process couldn’t get more cynical.

POLITICO (“Sequester sparks laid-off workers’ suit“):

Defense contractor L-3 Communications faces a class action lawsuit over its handling of layoffs at an Army airfield in Georgia, sparking renewed anger in Congress over an issue that first flared up during last year’s presidential campaign.

Three former L-3 employees are suing the company, charging they were laid off without the 60 days of notice required under the federal WARN Act. It’s a first test for the 1988 law since the Obama administration alerted contractors last year the federal government would pick up their legal costs if they were sued for WARN Act violations as a result of contracts modified or canceled under sequestration.

I’d actually forgotten that this was the law. But L-3 had well over a year’s notice that the sequestration cuts might be forthcoming, so why didn’t they warn their employees? Well, it seems the White House told them not to:

Already, the case is drawing the ire of the powerful Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who’s still seething after being outmaneuvered on the issue last year. “During the presidential campaign, the Obama White House foresaw sequestration triggering massive layoffs across the country,” Rep. Buck McKeon said in a statement to POLITICO.

“Affected industries were bound by law to notify their workers ahead of sequestration layoffs,” McKeon continued. “Instead, in the most cynical of moves, the White House offered taxpayer money to companies to stop them from issuing layoff notices, warnings due days before the election.”

The California congressman, of course, had political motivations of his own: At the time, Lockheed Martin and other defense contractors were threatening to send pre-election WARN notices to tens of thousands of workers across the country — putting their entire workforces on alert even though only a fraction were ultimately at risk of being laid off.

The problem, they said, was that they didn’t know which fraction.

Alas, it wasn’t just the Democrats playing political games with peoples’ lives here.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans were counting on the blanket notices to reinforce the GOP narrative that the economy was sputtering under Obama in the final weeks before Election Day.

But contractors backed off after the White House Office of Management and Budget issued its memo, saying legal costs associated with the WARN Act could be passed on to the government — as long as the layoffs were the result of sequestration and companies followed other aspects of the law.

Throughout the squabbling, New York-headquartered L-3 stayed quiet — and had little to say about the lawsuit filed against it last week. “We haven’t yet seen the suit and do not comment on matters of litigation,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Barton.

This is just . . . bizarre. Sequestration is a horrible enough way to cut costs as it is. Indeed, being horrible was the point: It was supposed to be so painful as to force Republicans and Democrats alike to compromise on cherished programs. It was a game of political chicken but, alas, neither party swerved and the full-on collision came.

Granted, the L-3 employees surely knew they were at risk of layoff and few of them likely had better options. And, since they were given two weeks’ notice, they’re only out six weeks’ notice and pay. Still, a crummy way to handle a crummy situation.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Wah, wah, wah — more Inside the Beltway whining from this horribly misnamed blog. It is insanity to claim there is any horrible way to cut costs, particularly across the board restraints, when you are spending a trillion dollars a year more than what you are taking in. The sequestration was a noquestration, as far as the DC economy was concerned. Obama’s chicken little sequestration claims were, are and always will be horribly false.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    If POLITICO is going to cite Buck McKeon on the administration’s motives should they not mention explicitly that old Buck is a Republican? Not a member or ally of the administration? Does that not make it clear anything he says about the administrations motives is speculation at best, not knowledge? If POLITICO is going to do this as a he said, she said story, shouldn’t there have been a she said?

    The memo linked is dated September, prior to the election, but also at a time the sequester was still unsettled. The memo says no notice is required 60 days prior to the sequester taking effect, not 60 days prior to layoff. The election was Nov. The gentleman mentioned as an example was laid off in April. April 10 – 60D is after the sequester took force and well after the election. Seems to me there may be less to this than Old Buck, and POLITICO, would have you believe.

  3. al-Ameda says:

    This is exactly what Republicans wanted and now they’re complaining? Why am I not surprised?

  4. edmondo says:

    since the Obama administration alerted contractors last year the federal government would pick up their legal costs if they were sued for WARN Act violations

    Has Obama ever met a Wall Street corporation he couldn’t reward with more taxpayer money?

  5. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    It’s a first test for the 1988 law since the Obama administration alerted contractors last year the federal government would pick up their legal costs if they were sued for WARN Act violations as a result of contracts modified or canceled under sequestration.

    In other words, the Obama administration enticed private companies to break the law, and offered them financial incentives to break the law. All in the cause of undercutting the effects of sequestration, which was the idea of the Obama administration in the first place.

    And the law in question? The WARN Act, which was passed by Democrats as a form of protection for workers.

    I’m totally lost here. Just who was the Obama administration trying to help here, and how? Are they officially against the WARN Act, or only when it might hurt them politically?

  6. milprof says:

    As an example of the morale-sucking, chickenshit actions that are being taken due to sequestration, here’s a recent example from one of the Services

    — all building thermostats to be set at 80F for the summer

    — Despite the warm offices, personnel are prohibited from setting up fans in their workspace, to avoid the electricity costs.

    — also to reduce electricity costs, personnel are to remove coffee makers, microwaves, popcorn poppers, curling irons, etc. Apparently still OK to charge your cell phone in the office, which isgenerous, since that does costs DoD $0.04 cents or so every time you do. Those 1/20 cents add up!

  7. John D'Geek says:

    The WARN act has an appropriate Loophole — it allows cuts without notice in unusual circumstances — like having a contract or contract being cut without warning.

    Sequester was scary, and everyone knew that cuts were coming — but until a specific contract was actually cut, you couldn’t say who would loose their jobs. It sucks, but without the government saying “you’ll loose this contract in 90 days” (or whatever), one could make the argument that 60 days notice was physically impossible.

    Because the Government doesn’t have to follow it’s own rules.

  8. John D'Geek says:

    @milprof: Here in OK, they delayed turning on the AC for quite a while. Nothing quite like 98 degree days with no AC. Fortunately, OK always has a breeze …

    And Furloughs* … don’t get me started. Short of random firings, There’s no better way to shove the top tallent out the door.

    * To achieve a 20% pay cut, everyone gets one day off a week — without pay.