Defense Furlough Days Reduced By Steve Vogel

Washington Post
August 7, 2013
Pg. 17

Number is cut from 11 to 6; but Hagel warns of fiscal 2014 uncertainty

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that the Pentagon is reducing the number of furlough days faced by the department’s civilian workers from 11 to six but warned that additional hardship lies over the horizon with more expected budget cuts.

The announcement came as about 640,000 civilian defense workers entered their fifth week of furloughs under the sequester, having lost on average one day of pay per week since early July. Most of the furloughs will be completed by the end of next week, according to defense officials.

“I regret the difficulties they and their families had to face during this furlough period,” Hagel wrote in a memo Tuesday announcing the reduction.

Hagel said a combination of congressional authorizations and Pentagon “budget management efforts” allowed the reduction from the 11 days he announced in mid-May.

In late July, Congress approved a large reprogramming request allowing the Defense Department flexibility to move funds across accounts. Hagel also said the cost of moving U.S. military equipment out of Afghanistan has been less than expected.

“The military services have been aggressive in identifying ways to hold down costs, and we have been successful in shifting savings (including furlough savings) to meet our highest priority needs,” Hagel wrote in his memo, which was addressed to senior defense officials and military commanders.

Because of the savings, the Air Force has begun flying squadrons that were grounded because of sequestration, while the Army has restored some money for training and the Navy has restarted maintenance that had been delayed, Hagel said.

But the defense secretary warned that despite the improved situation, “this is a military whose readiness remains seriously degraded” as it enters the next fiscal year.

Hagel noted in a statement released by the Pentagon that unless the Budget Control Act mandating sequestration is changed, the Defense Department is to cut an additional $52 billion in fiscal 2014, which begins Oct 1. This represents 40 percent more than this year’s sequester-mandated cuts of $37 billion, he said.

“Facing this uncertainty, I cannot be sure what will happen next year, but I want to assure our civilian employees that we will do everything possible to avoid more furloughs,” Hagel said.

The reduction in the number of furlough days means most employees will have met their furlough requirements by Aug. 17. All employees who are not exempt from furloughs must meet the six-day requirement before the end of the fiscal year.

Hagel also announced that most furloughs will end immediately for Department of Defense Education Activity teachers and support staff to avoid affecting the 2013-14 school year.

The furlough reduction was first reported by the Associated Press.

Tuesday’s announcement was the latest in a series of steps scaling back the scope of the furloughs since sequestration took effect March 1. The Defense Department initially planned for 22 days of furloughs but reduced the number to 14 and then, after a review ordered by Hagel, to 11 days.

One of the largest labor unions representing civilian defense workers applauded the latest reduction Tuesday but said the furloughs should never have been imposed in the first place.

“AFGE has argued from the start that the Department of Defense furloughs were always the worst possible way for the department to absorb sequestration’s cuts,” American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox said in a statement. “The secretary’s announcement suggests that he has finally realized that furloughs are costly in terms of dollars, readiness and morale.”

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said he was “relieved” by the decision, noting the “tough economic realities that many Virginia families were facing because of these unpaid furlough days.”

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