Agencies in Maryland dodge furloughs — for now

"The agency still does not currently anticipate the need to furlough any of our employees," the spokeswoman said.

For most federal employees, notice must be given 30 days before furloughs begin.

Critics of sequestration note that furloughs at federal agencies are still on the table for later this year, that schools in poor communities such as Baltimore will face significant reductions in the next academic year, and that low-income parents who rely on Head Start for early childhood education will soon be scrambling for other options.

In other words, Sen. Ben Cardin said, the full impact of sequestration has not yet been felt.

"It's going to have a negative impact on our economy from the point of view of jobs," the Maryland Democrat said. "This won't happen overnight ... but it's going to happen."

Budget cuts mandated by sequestration are spread over the fiscal year, so many agencies waited several weeks to see whether Congress would alter them. With changes now off the table for the rest of the year, officials are beginning to implement reductions.

But in the first month of sequestration, the fear that tens of thousands of Marylanders would be furloughed has not been realized. Agency officials say they have made cuts elsewhere or received added flexibility in a government funding bill that Congress approved this month.

An amendment to that bill, which Obama signed Tuesday, transferred $55 million within the Department of Agriculture to cover the agency's food inspection program, sparing food inspectors from furloughs. That move was considered particularly important for Maryland's poultry industry.

The Federal Aviation Administration, meanwhile, delayed for several weeks its plan to close five control towers at small airports in Maryland, including Martin State and Easton. Instead of closing April 7, the towers will shut down in late April or early May.

Furloughs for civilian defense employees, including at Fort Meade and the U.S. Naval Academy, have also been delayed. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week that the number of furlough days will be cut to 14 from the initial projection of 22.

Pentagon officials have not said how many employees might be exempted from furloughs.

The uncertainly has been difficult for defense employees such as Gerard Davis, 57, of Bowie, who works as a quality control inspector at Fort Meade. He and his wife are looking for second jobs so they're prepared if and when furloughs begin.

But Davis said it's hard to pursue a second job when it is unclear what days he might be furloughed.

"It's going to be tough," said Davis, who attended a rally on the base organized recently by the American Federation of Government Employees. The union represents about 3,000 of Fort Meade's civilian workers.

"The atmosphere here is everyone is waiting and hoping for the best but keeping it in the back of their mind," he said.

While furloughs are being delayed or limited, that does not mean there won't be other reductions that could harm the regional economy. Agencies that make no cuts to staff are likely to trim contract spending, said Anirban Basu, chairman and chief executive of the Sage Policy Group.

And that is a problem for Maryland's robust contracting community, which employs more than 171,000 state residents. The federal government awarded about $27 billion in contracts to Maryland businesses in the 2012 fiscal year.

"There will be an impact on the local economy," Basu said. "There has to be."

Maryland employers added 10,500 jobs in February — the most recent figures available. But that data does not include the effects of sequestration.

Timothy J. Adams owns Systems Application & Technologies Inc., a Largo-based logistics and engineering contractor that does work for the Defense Department and other federal agencies. He expects that the 24-year-old company will have to lay off employees — probably in other states — if it receives less work from the government.

"We're all still uncertain about where things are going," he said.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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