The Washington Times - February 25, 2013, 10:31AM

The federal government is facing massive furloughs beginning later this week, but it is still running help-wanted ads seeking workers to answer phones — at up to $81,000 a year — or to drive cars for the State Department, for as much as $26.45 an hour.

Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican and Congress’s top waste-watcher, sent a letter Monday to the White House budget office asking it to halt new hiring in low-priority jobs as a way of trying to preserve more important positions such as food safety inspectors and Border Patrol agents.

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His letter identified 10 help-wanted jobs posted on the federal hiring website,, which he said could save as much as $1.4 million a year if the government canceled the hiring.

Among them were the staff assistant job at the Labor Department, which paid up to $81,204 a year for someone to do scheduling and screening calls; a new lawyer for the Morris K. Udall Scholarship program, with a salary of up to $155,000 a year; and a new director for the Air Force’s history and museums program, with a salary topping out at $165,300 a year.

There is also an ad for 10 “motor vehicle operator” jobs at the State Department, ranging in pay from $22.76 to $26.45 an hour for duties described as: “Drive and operate vans, trucks, and passenger vehicles on shuttle runs, special, long distance, and overnight trips; Perform maintenance and minor repairs on vehicles that includes but is not limited to changing flat tires and checking vehicle oil; and Assist passengers and loads and/or unload luggage.”

“Are any of these positions more important than an air traffic controller, a border patrol officer, a food inspector, a TSA screener, or a civilian supporting our men and women in combat in Afghanistan?” Mr. Coburn asked in his letter to White House budget office acting Director Jeffrey Zients.

The budget office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Congress and President Obama are staring at $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts due Friday, which the White House says would cut everything from military programs to support for local education.

The Senate is expected to hold a vote this week on a plan to replace half of the cuts with tax-rate increases, though that plan is unlikely to clear a Republican filibuster in that chamber.

The House, controlled by the GOP, has not passed any legislation this Congress. Republican leaders say they are waiting on the Senate to act first.