No Decision On More Furlough Reductions By Josh Hicks

Washington Post
July 31, 2013
Pg. B4

News report claims cuts from 11 to 6 days set for defense workers

The Defense Department on Tuesday denied having definitive plans to trim furloughs for a second time this year after a news report said another reduction is likely.

Pentagon spokesman Nathan Christensen said Tuesday that “no decisions have been made at this time” about a possible reduction in furloughs, despite an Associated Press report stating that defense officials said the number of unpaid leave days would likely be cut from 11 to six as a result of penny-pinching and actions taken by Congress.

The Defense Department last said it planned to furlough more than 640,000 civilian workers for 11 days between July 8 and the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. Most of the workers have taken four unpaid days already.

During a town hall meeting in May, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced plans to implement the 11 furlough days. The Pentagon had previously anticipated 22 days, but the department adjusted its figures after Congress agreed to allow more spending flexibility.

Hagel said during the meeting that the department would look for ways to further reduce the furloughs, but he made no promises about the outcome. “We’ll continue to look at it, [and] we’ll continue to do everything we can,” he said.

The furloughs come as part of the Defense Department’s efforts to trim costs under the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, which hit nearly all areas of government in March.

The Defense Department must trim its budget by $37 billion this year as a result of the sequester. In 2014, the automatic cuts will require a $52 billion cut for the Pentagon unless Congress and President Obama agree to an alternative deficit-reduction plan.

In a letter to Hagel, a labor union representing civilian defense employees called on the Pentagon to eliminate the furloughs. J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, accused the Pentagon of gamesmanship and said it has adequate funding to avoid any more days of unpaid leave.

“Furloughs have been used by the department to send political signals, rather than because of genuine budgetary constraints,” Cox said. “The department’s policy on furloughs has been an abject failure.”

Cox also called on the Pentagon to extract more savings from spending on service contracts.

“It is outrageous that civilian employees are furloughed while contractors are allowed to report for work every day,” he said.

Cox said the Pentagon has “needlessly furloughed” certain segments of the defense workforce, particularly the so-called working-capital funded employees who are financed through sales revenue instead of congressional appropriations.

“The department saves no money by furloughing these employees,” he said.

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