Workforce

DOD furloughs begin as Pentagon looks to 2014

image of worried man

Defense Department civilian employees have begin taking the long expected -- and feared -- furlough days. (Stock image)

July 8 marked the first day back from a long weekend for many, but for 650,000-plus Defense Department civilian employees, it was the beginning of unwanted time off that will be spread over the next 11 weeks.

Pentagon officials estimate that by having non-military employees take one unpaid day of leave per week through Sept. 30, DOD will save roughly $1.8 billion through the end of the fiscal year. The furloughs are a result of the budget cuts required under sequestration.

The number of furlough days was reduced in May from an estimated 22 days to 11 after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel determined that the $10 billion from a congressional stop-gap funding measure would be enough to cut down on furlough days.

The furloughs come despite efforts to block them by the Federal Workers Alliance, a group of unions representing 300,000 federal employees.

"Behind every good soldier is a team of dedicated Defense civilian employees," FWA Chairman William Dougan said in a statement released July 1 announcing the alliance's campaign to stop the furloughs. "There is no good reason to send them home for 11 days of unpaid leave when they want to work. These people need to be on the job, not on the couch."

Just days before that, on June 28, DOD issued a memo reminding managers of the steps to take to manage workloads in the absence of civilian employees. Those steps include ensuring that they don't put "borrowed military manpower" to work filling in for missing civilians.

Additionally, "contractors are prohibited from being assigned or permitted to perform additional work or duties to compensate for the workload/productivity loss resulting from the civilian furlough," the memo states.

In the coming days, DOD officials are expected to provide Congress with a detailed analysis of sequestration's effects on the fiscal 2014 budget, the Washington Times reported. Hagel is expected to discuss the budgetary outlook this week.

In two recent public appearances, he touched on the furloughs and the budgetary difficulties that are resulting from sequestration, particularly with regard to the 2014 budget and beyond.

"Furlough is a tough thing, furloughing anybody for any reason. And I want you to know that this is an area that I gave as much attention to as any one thing, as to how do we minimize the downside and the impact on our people?" Hagel said in a June 28 town hall meeting with soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo. "I made the decision after weeks and weeks and weeks of looking at the budget, the numbers of the comptroller and all the leaders...that we could get this done with 11 days of furloughs, maybe better, but you need to be told as directly, clearly and honestly as you can what the facts are. And those are the facts."

In a June 26 press briefing, Hagel said officials are weighing the possibility of continued cuts under sequestration amid fiscal 2014 planning.

"We started out working on the assumption that [the president's 2014 budget] is the underlying budget, that is the underlying number," he said. "We wanted to assess all the options based on what may occur or continue to occur in the interest of preparing this enterprise to do the job that it is charged to do, and that's the security of this country. That means prepare option one: What [does] our budget in the world look like if sequestration continues?"

Central to those deliberations is the Strategic Choices and Management Review, for which Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, completed gathering recommendations from the military services at the end of May. The review of budgetary components, responsibilities and priorities based on different scenarios is helping to guide preparations for potential further cuts, Hagel said.

"I'm assessing that now," he said. "All of our uniformed and civilian leadership was involved, top to bottom, which I wanted. We looked at everything. And based on those numbers, based on those assessments, based on those possibilities and different scenarios, then that will inform our leadership as to how we prepare for next year's budget as we present it in early 2014 for 2015. But also in the event that we're going to be living with sequestration, then I can't do anything else, nor can the leadership, but try to get ahead of this and prepare. That's what it's about."

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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