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DOD furlough delay prompts anger

Chuck Hagel at budget hearing

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to reach a decision soon on the number of furlough days DOD employees will have to take. (File photo)

Our latest report about impending furloughs for Defense Department civilian employees provoked several readers to express frustration.

Wrote one reader: So while the employees of the government get punished for the lack of fiscal responsibility of this government, tell me if Mr. Hagel will himself get a furlough. Bet not!!

Amber Corrin responds: While Hagel might not face an actual work furlough – many would probably object to the Defense Secretary skipping out on his national security duties – a pay cut still is a possibility. In April Hagel publicly said that he would forfeit part of his salary, even though as a presidential appointee he is exempt from furlough.

Another reader wrote: I question the legality of forcing the services that have the money to meet payroll to furlough their civilians instead, just to show consistency and fairness with the services whose budgets are running short. Is money typically transferred or shifted between [the Navy, Army and Air Force departments] for other purposes? I also agree with others who have noted that by taking so much time to decide, DOD leadership is forcing employees into a 2-day furlough per pay period situation. An earlier decision and earlier execution of the furloughs could have reduced the pain by limiting furloughs to 1-day per pay period. By trying to find the money (from where?) to continue reducing furlough days, it is my household budget they are gambling with!

Amber Corrin responds: It is not clear if the services would be forced to furlough civilian employees if they do not need to do so to meet sequestration budget cut requirements. DOD Comptroller Robert Hale in a press conference did say that the preference would be for decisions to be uniform across the services, but stopped short of any specific requirements for furlough regardless of financial arrangements.

"We would like to see consistency and fairness, because if we're going to have to jump into this pool, we'd like to jump together," Hale said in an April 11 congressional hearing.

In general, money typically is not transferred between departments. At DOD they like to refer to buckets of funding as "colors of money" and historically speaking, rarely do these colors cross each other. If there is leftover money of one color left in a "pot" – which Pentagon officials and program managers try very hard to avoid – it gets returned to the Treasury Department. Like a lot of decision-making today, there remains a lot of uncertainty, and increasingly leaders are allowing for more wiggle room in priorities. So it is always possible that this could change.

As for the number of furlough days per pay period, the original plan, when the number of furlough days was pegged at 22, was to furlough DOD civilians two days per pay period. Although the number of furlough days has been reduced to 14 – and could still be further reduced – it was, from the beginning, planned that employees would be forced to take one unpaid day of leave per week for the last 22 weeks of the fiscal year. DOD officials so far have declined FCW requests for comment on how this may change with fewer furlough days.

Posted by Amber Corrin on May 09, 2013 at 12:10 PM


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