Commentary Magazine


Topic: OMB

Misplaced Priorities on Sequestration

Unless Congress acts before January 1, sequestration will kick in and the defense budget will be slashed some $50 billion across the board—the first stage of cutbacks which could total $1 trillion over the next decade. That is certain to have a severe impact not only on Defense Department employees, civilians, and military, but also on the defense contractors that produce the vehicles, aircraft, ships, missiles, ammunition, and everything else needed to equip the armed forces.

Under the 1989 WARN Act (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) companies with more than 100 employees are obligated to give 60-days notice of mass layoffs and plant closings. Lockheed Martin threatened to send out those notices on November 2, four days before the election–and with many of them arriving in swing states such as Virginia. That would not be good for President Obama’s reelection chances so his Office of Management and Budget has alternatively bullied and bribed the defense contractors not to send out the layoff notices–the demands of the law notwithstanding.

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Unless Congress acts before January 1, sequestration will kick in and the defense budget will be slashed some $50 billion across the board—the first stage of cutbacks which could total $1 trillion over the next decade. That is certain to have a severe impact not only on Defense Department employees, civilians, and military, but also on the defense contractors that produce the vehicles, aircraft, ships, missiles, ammunition, and everything else needed to equip the armed forces.

Under the 1989 WARN Act (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) companies with more than 100 employees are obligated to give 60-days notice of mass layoffs and plant closings. Lockheed Martin threatened to send out those notices on November 2, four days before the election–and with many of them arriving in swing states such as Virginia. That would not be good for President Obama’s reelection chances so his Office of Management and Budget has alternatively bullied and bribed the defense contractors not to send out the layoff notices–the demands of the law notwithstanding.

To follow up on Alana’s post yesterday, the latest news is that OMB has promised to pay severance costs for contractors if sequestration occurs—as long as they don’t send layoff notices in advance. This is about as flagrant an act of political manipulation—putting the demands of the president’s reelection campaign ahead of the demands of the law—as one can possibly imagine and it should be greeted with more public notice, and press outrage, than has been the case to date.

If only the Obama administration devoted a tenth as much energy to preventing sequestration as it does to preventing an immediate political hit from sequestration.

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OMB: We’ll Reimburse Employers for WARN Act Fallout

The Office of Management and Budget is now promising to compensate defense contractors for any legal penalties that would stem from violating the WARN Act, a federal law that requires employers to warn employees at least 60 days in advance of mass layoffs. The Obama administration had already been urging contractors to ignore the WARN Act in the case of the looming sequestration cuts, since the 60-day-minimum would mean hundreds of thousands of employees could get notices of pending layoffs just days before the presidential election.

But it’s one thing for the Obama administration to tell contractors that they shouldn’t worry about the law. It’s quite another to promise that the cost of any resulting lawsuits will be covered by the government (read: the taxpayers):

But the Friday guidance from the Office of Management and Budget raised the stakes in the dispute, telling contractors that they would be compensated for legal costs if layoffs occur due to contract cancellations under sequestration — but only if the contractors follow the Labor guidance.

The guidance said that if plant closings or mass layoffs occur under sequestration, then “employee compensation costs for [Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification] WARN act liability as determined by a court” would be paid for covered by the contracting federal agency.

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The Office of Management and Budget is now promising to compensate defense contractors for any legal penalties that would stem from violating the WARN Act, a federal law that requires employers to warn employees at least 60 days in advance of mass layoffs. The Obama administration had already been urging contractors to ignore the WARN Act in the case of the looming sequestration cuts, since the 60-day-minimum would mean hundreds of thousands of employees could get notices of pending layoffs just days before the presidential election.

But it’s one thing for the Obama administration to tell contractors that they shouldn’t worry about the law. It’s quite another to promise that the cost of any resulting lawsuits will be covered by the government (read: the taxpayers):

But the Friday guidance from the Office of Management and Budget raised the stakes in the dispute, telling contractors that they would be compensated for legal costs if layoffs occur due to contract cancellations under sequestration — but only if the contractors follow the Labor guidance.

The guidance said that if plant closings or mass layoffs occur under sequestration, then “employee compensation costs for [Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification] WARN act liability as determined by a court” would be paid for covered by the contracting federal agency.

There’s also a catch: employers have to agree to play by the “Department of Labor’s guidance” if they want any potential legal costs covered. The DOL’s guidance asks them not to send out layoff notices before the election.

That seems to have satisfied defense contractors. Today, Lockheed Martin announced it would not issue layoff notices in advance of the sequestration cuts. Where is the campaign media on this? The Obama administration just told defense contractors that taxpayers would pay for any legal penalties for not complying with a law that would have complicated Obama’s reelection campaign. Does that not warrant some scrutiny, or do we need a billionth article on Romney’s “47 percent gaffe” instead?

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Emails Show Extent of Solyndra’s Government Dependence

The House Energy and Commerce Committee released some brutally damaging emails for the Obama administration this morning, showing how reliant failed solar energy company Solyndra was on the government to stay afloat toward the end. As the Washington Post reports, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget found that it would be financially safer for the government to cut its losses in Solyndra rather than green-lighting additional loans — and yet the administration continued to gamble on the flailing company:

As the Obama administration moved last year to bail out Solyndra, the embattled flagship of the president’s initiative to promote alternative energy, a White House budget analyst calculated that millions of taxpayer dollars might be saved by cutting the government’s losses, shuttering the company immediately and selling its assets, according to a congressional investigation.

Even so, senior officials in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget did not discourage the Energy Department from proceeding with its plan to restructure a federal loan to Solyndra — a move that put private investors ahead of taxpayers for repayment if the company closed, the investigation by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee found.

The White House continues to deny there was any political favoritism involved, despite Obama’s cozy relationship with Solyndra execs and one of its main private backers, George Kaiser. But why else would the administration take such a financial risk on a likely loser, despite the findings from its own OMB? Why restructure a loan to let private investors get repaid before taxpayers? From an objective standpoint, the decision should be cut-and-dry. Even if the Obama administration didn’t care about squandering taxpayer money, you would think it would at least take it out of a high-risk investment when it had the option.

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The House Energy and Commerce Committee released some brutally damaging emails for the Obama administration this morning, showing how reliant failed solar energy company Solyndra was on the government to stay afloat toward the end. As the Washington Post reports, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget found that it would be financially safer for the government to cut its losses in Solyndra rather than green-lighting additional loans — and yet the administration continued to gamble on the flailing company:

As the Obama administration moved last year to bail out Solyndra, the embattled flagship of the president’s initiative to promote alternative energy, a White House budget analyst calculated that millions of taxpayer dollars might be saved by cutting the government’s losses, shuttering the company immediately and selling its assets, according to a congressional investigation.

Even so, senior officials in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget did not discourage the Energy Department from proceeding with its plan to restructure a federal loan to Solyndra — a move that put private investors ahead of taxpayers for repayment if the company closed, the investigation by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee found.

The White House continues to deny there was any political favoritism involved, despite Obama’s cozy relationship with Solyndra execs and one of its main private backers, George Kaiser. But why else would the administration take such a financial risk on a likely loser, despite the findings from its own OMB? Why restructure a loan to let private investors get repaid before taxpayers? From an objective standpoint, the decision should be cut-and-dry. Even if the Obama administration didn’t care about squandering taxpayer money, you would think it would at least take it out of a high-risk investment when it had the option.

But the story gets even worse for the White House. The Washington Times reports that newly released emails also indicate that Solyndra was hoping to make the federal government its biggest customer for solar panels, in an effort to stay above water:

“Getting business from Uncle Sam is a principal element of Solyndra’s channel strategy,” one investor wrote in an email months after Mr. Obama’s May 2010 tour of the now-bankrupt company, according details of an investigative report Thursday by Republicans on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The now bankrupt company’s founder, Chris Gronet, “spoke very openly to Obama about the need for installation of Solyndra’s rooftop solar panels on U.S. government buildings,” Tom Baruch, founder of CMEA Capital, an investor, wrote to another Solyndra official.

“I heard Obama actually promise Chris he would look into it when he got back to Washington,” the email continued.

In other words, taxpayer money was going to be used to buy unprofitable solar panels from a company that was already being kept afloat by government loans. This was a company that was never interested in standing on its own feet, and whose entire existence — past and future — was dependent on the federal government.

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