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Political Calvinball: Whitehouse Arm-Twisting & Defense Layoffs

For those not in the know, Calvinball is the the favorite game of Calvin and Hobbes (yes, the comic) and it seems to be one at which this Administration is particularly adept. Calvin and Hobbes aficionados will recall that the game is known best for chaos and an ever changing rulebook. In fact, the only rule is, “You can’t play it the same way twice.”

With Sequestration budget cuts looming, the Obama administration has decided they want to make up some new rules and hope it’s enough to make Virgina show up blue on November 6th.

Earlier today, Lockheed Martin, one of the largest employers in the battleground state of Virginia, announced that it won’t be sending out layoff notices to thousands of employees on the eve of the election. This was counter their previous warnings that they were required by law (the WARN Act) to notify employees subject to termination 60 calendar days ahead of time. This change in the company’s direction was a response to Friday’s politically charged statement from Obama’s Office of Management and Budget.

In the statement (a more bold reiteration of policy outlined in July), the OMB states that even though defense contractors (and the politically aware public at large) see Sequestration related military budget cuts as a reality which they are forced to account for in their business plans, they don’t need to follow federal law which requires them to inform the impacted employees of this reality.

The reason? Well, the Whitehouse is pretty sure that the affected workers won’t be rushing to the polls to vote for a second Obama term.

To be clear, there are two legal realities that the Obama Administration is so obviously ignoring: the budget cuts required by Sequestration are in fact law and will be implemented on January 2nd. Second, the Clinton-era WARN act requires large employers (over 100 employees) to give 60 days notice of potential layoffs.

Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte released a statement on the subject Friday:

Obama is putting “his own reelection ahead of the interests of working Americans and our national security by promising government contractors that their salary and liability costs will be covered at taxpayer expense if they do not follow the law that requires advance warning to employees of jobs that may be lost due to sequestration. … Apparently, President Obama puts politics ahead of American workers by denying them adequate time to plan their finances and take care of their families. The people who work in the defense industry and other government contracting companies deserve as much notice as possible that they are on track to lose their jobs.

Several Republicans in the House and Senate have seriously questioned the legal basis for the Administration’s policy shift. Sen. Graham stated that he believed it to be, “patently illegal,” and House Armed Services Chairman Bud McKeon said it was the product of, “politically motivated memos with dubious grounding in the law.”

The administration is couching this policy as acceptable because there is “uncertainty” about what Congress will do (and how Sequestration budget cuts will be carried out). From the OMB:

 Dept. Of Labor concluded that it is neither necessary nor appropriate for Federal contractors to provide WARN Act notice to employees 60 days in advance of the potential sequestration because of uncertainty about whether sequestration will occur and, if it did, what effect it would have on particular contracts, among other factors.

In spite of contractors preparing for significant, across the board cuts, the Administration believes it would, “waste States’ resources in undertaking employment assistance activities where none are needed and create unnecessary anxiety and uncertainty for workers,” to alert employees to impending termination.

Nowhere in any of the statements does the Administration propose that the companies shouldn’t prepare to have their budgets gutted or that there isn’t a strong likelihood of being forced to lay off the number of employees that Sequestration cuts would cause. Rather, it seems that prudence and reason should be ignored in deference to the President’s electoral ambitions.

More than that, they promise that WE (the American taxpayers) will compensate employees and pay when employees sue, claiming that their employers were in violation of the WARN Act! We’re on the hook not only for legal fees for these companies to break the law, but also for compensation costs ordered by our own court system:

If sequestration occurs and an agency terminates or modifies a contract that necessitates that the contractor order a plant closing or mass layoff…any resulting employee compensation costs for WARN Act liability as determined by court, as well as attorney’s fees and other litigation costs (irrespective of litigation outcome), would qualify as allowable costs and be covered by the contracting agency…

It seems that due to “uncertainty” (a fact of life which government contractors are perpetually forced to account for), it is neither “necessary nor appropriate” to proceed with layoff notification. The likely result of these new rules to the Administration’s evolving game will be thousands of employees being laid of without significant notice and the taxpayers will pick up the tab so that Obama can collect a few more votes.

It seems that the only rule the Obama Administration plays by is, “It’s all fair as long as we get a second term.”

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