DOD takes first steps toward furloughs

furloughed worker

DOD civilian employees face furloughs equal to a 20-percent pay cut if sequestration takes hold. (Stock image)

Pentagon officials on Feb. 20 notified Congress of plans to furlough nearly 800,000 civilian Defense Department employees as part of planning for $46 billion in potential cuts that could come this year under sequestration.

The notice serves to start the clock on a 45-day countdown until the furloughs can begin, according to DOD Comptroller Robert Hale.

"The bottom line is furloughs would not actually start for DOD employees until late April," Hale said at a Pentagon press conference. "And we certainly hope even if sequestration is triggered on March 1, in the interim Congress will work to de-trigger sequestration or…take some short-term action while dealing with the broader issues."

The next move will come in March, when a 30-day notification would be sent to all employees who may face furlough. In April, a decision will be sent to employees whose managers have determined they will be furloughed; they are given one week to appeal the decision.

The furloughs equal a 20-percent pay cut for civilian DOD personnel.

"We are doing everything possible to limit the worst effects on DOD personnel – but I regret that our flexibility within the law is extremely limited," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote in a Feb. 20 memo to civilian employees.

Some personnel are exempt from the measures, including civilians employed in the combat theater, some providing security or protection of life or property, and – an aspect Hale called "embarrassing" – Senate-confirmed political appointees.

Panetta, Hale and others warned that impact on military readiness will be significant under sequestration. Hale described operations and maintenance funding as "seriously short" and said there will be "serious adverse effects" on readiness.

Jessica Wright, acting undersecretary of personnel and readiness, warned of the negative second- and third-order consequences, and pointed out that some critical DOD programs, such as those dealing with education, medicine, sexual assault and suicide, will be hard-hit.

"The effects of sequestration and the continuing resolution on our military personnel will be devastating, but on our civilians it will be catastrophic," she said. "[It] will be felt in the local commands and will be felt in the local communities, all over the United States and clearly all over the globe. This is not a Beltway phenomenon."

But so far, officials are still holding off on many of the larger-scale, DOD-wide decisions, Hale said. "Right now the guidance we have from [Office of Management and Budget] is not to plan for these large cuts that could occur under the Budget Control Act," he said, adding that doing so would require looking at a new defense strategy and a smaller military, which would include a smaller civilian workforce and "a variety of other changes."

Hale, who expressed some bewilderment at the situation, did try to maintain at least some hope that the unprecedented state of affairs still could be resolved.

"Today [DOD] faces some enormous budgetary uncertainty, really unparalleled in my experience," he said. "The change I want Congress to make is to pass a balanced budget deficit reduction package that the President can sign and de-trigger sequestration. And to pass appropriates bills. That's what would solve our problem."

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Reader comments

Fri, Feb 22, 2013

It'll be interesting to see what happens. I know our organization is planning to delay or refuse a number of non-critical requests, including those from Congress, if this happens since we'll be short on manpower and have to focus on mission critical items. Not sure if they'll get the hint but I wish I could be there to look them in face and tell them NO.

Fri, Feb 22, 2013

I just read yesterday that entitlements now represent 67% of govt spending!!!!!! Wow!! And all this talk of cutting DOD, which is discretionary. Amazing! How the heck are we ever going to reduce our debt when 2/3 of our spending is mandatory entitlements? We are in real trouble when we focus on military spending as if it's a huge part of our problem. It is the 67% that needs to be addressed NOW!

Thu, Feb 21, 2013

While often bashed and criticized in open media as extra fat within the Defense Department, the civilian workforce acts as the corporate memory required for sustaining military operations and preventing the repeat of mistakes. While certainly not across the board, many active military members, very senior officers included, concern themselves with near term gains for their short 2-3 year tours at each command and make decisions that don't serve our nation best. DoD civilians help mitigate these effects. The impact of the furloughs will not only impact the morale of a hardworking force, but will impact military readiness in a greater manner than is readily apparent. And if some of these personnel leave the DoD, it will be among the best and brightest who can take best advantage of opportunities. elsewhere.

Thu, Feb 21, 2013

I think it should be clarified that the 20% cut is for the period of the furloughs (about 5 months), not per the annual salary. That said, it will feel like 20% for those five months.

Thu, Feb 21, 2013

SecDef is playing chicken with Congress, trying to get civilian employees and local politicos to like fires under the folks on the hill. 'The first thing we do is close the Washington monument', etc. There is PLENTY of stuff DoD could cut, but it would take time and a blank sheet of paper and the guts and authority to come up with a rational organizational structure. Common-service most of the stuff each service does seperately, and quit duplication of functions available on civilian side. What part of It's All The Same Store, do they not understand?

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