Uncertainty persists with DOD furloughs

Hagel, others note productivity hit and the need for flexibility

Furloughs

Defense Department officials are looking for ways to further reduce the number of furlough days for roughly 700,000 civilian employees, with a review under way to further evaluate budget constraints, according to Pentagon leadership.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel "has asked that we take another close look at furloughs, and we are in the process of doing that," DOD Comptroller Robert Hale said April 18 at the Pentagon. "The furloughs, if they occur, are going to damage morale if that hasn’t already happened, and seriously damage productivity in virtually every area of the department."

The number of furlough days already was reduced from an initial plan of 22 days down to 14, and officials are seeking ways around the cuts being forced by sequestration.

Earlier in the week, Hagel, testifying before the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, indicated that some civilian employees could be exempted from furlough based on job priority, based on areas such as "safety, security, expertise and so on."

"That said, what we have tried to do in approaching this is be fair and try to come at this in a way that’s across the board, with the exceptions that [I've] noted and others," Hagel said, according to a Washington Times report. "If we have to do this ... then that’s the approach that we will continue to take."

On April 17 Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter criticized the furloughs and said officials are "scrubbing the money pot" to prioritize spending with the additional $10 billion granted by Congress last month in a continuing resolution.

"Of course, it's not just to alleviate the furlough. We have other things that are important -- all these things are important," he said. "We have to make sure our nuclear deterrent forces are at full readiness. We have to support [troops in Afghanistan]. We have to take care of wounded warriors."

Hale stressed that nothing is certain and that furloughs remain on the table.

"The possibility of furloughs for our civilian personnel for up to 14 days [is] an issue we're still looking at," Hale said. "If we end up doing them, we will take an overall approach which does it in a way that minimizes the adverse effects on mission to the extent we can."

On Capitol Hill, Hagel indicated a decision is expected next month.

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