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DOE says sequestration may force furloughs, program cuts

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Energy Department has notified its employees that it may have to place workers on temporary furloughs and slash "vital programs" if across-the-board budget cuts take place as scheduled in March.

President Barack Obama and lawmakers in Congress have been sparring over how to address the deep automatic spending cuts due on March 1, known as "sequestration."

"Given that less than one month remains until these cuts would take effect ... our senior leadership team is engaged in extensive planning efforts to determine how we would deal with sequestration," Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman said in an internal letter to department employees obtained by Reuters.

First reported by Bloomberg BNA, the letter said the department may have to consider putting employees on furlough to deal with the cuts, as well cutting administrative costs related to travel, training and supplies.

The department may also need to curtail vital programs and spending on contracts.

Poneman did not specify which programs were at risk for cuts.

Dan Reicher, executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy, said in an interview earlier this month that the agency's ability to carry out the president's goal to tackle climate change may be tested by budget cuts.

Reicher has been mentioned as a possible successor to Steven Chu, who announced last week he would not stay for Obama's second term.

"There is a whole range of activities that DOE is undertaking from near term programs to longer term scientific breakthroughs and everything in between that will add significantly to carbon emission reductions," Reicher said.

"A lot of that has been out of the president's control. It depends on whatever appropriations congress provides and will be dictated by how much funding it has."

(Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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