Sequester fallout: Obama Trade Rep. grounded, complains about teleconferences, added work

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Jobs,Budgets and Deficits,Spending,Sequester

The ongoing federal budget sequester, which took $3.5 million from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, has resulted in a sharp cutback in overseas travel and forced some employees to do more, the president’s trade representative complained on Thursday.

“People are having to do the work of not only their own jobs but of others and not able to travel to negotiations or to enforcement actions the way that they’d like to in order to fulfill their responsibilities,” said the president’s new trade rep. Michael Froman.

Asked at a media breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor about USTR’s 32.7 percent worker satisfaction rate in a recent survey — among the lowest in government — Froman blamed the budget.

“A big part of this is resources,” said Froman, who added that he’s put raising worker morale “very high on our agenda.”

But, he said, the spending “constraints are real,” noting that USTR’s budget of $51 million was cut in the sequester to $47.5 million. The president had sought $56 million.

USTR not only negotiates trade deals around the world but also enforces them. Froman, for example, said that enforcement travel has been slashed.

“That's not in our interest. There is only so much you can do through video conferences or through teleconferences. A lot of making progress,” he said, “is having that face-to-face contact.”

Still, he said he is taking action to show his support for his staff. “We really are invested in their success, we want to be supportive of their professional and personal development and that even within these constrained environments we’re committed to doing what we can to achieve a good work-life balance and overall satisfactory work environment,” he told the media breakfast.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.