Pentagon furloughs could start in mid-April
By: Leigh Munsil
January 25, 2013 12:32 PM EST
The Pentagon could begin furloughing civilian employees one day a week starting in mid-April if sequestration takes effect on its new March 1 deadline, POLITICO has learned.
The Defense Department plans to submit a request to Congress in mid-February for approval to furlough civilian employees, according to multiple sources inside the Pentagon with knowledge of the preparations. If sequestration indeed happened and Congress approved the DoD’s request, notification letters would go out to the employees affected.
Civilian employees would take one day of unpaid leave per week until the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, according to the sources. Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter confirmed to reporters Friday that one-day-a-week furloughs would continue for the remainder of the budget year. The furloughs would save the Pentagon $5 billion — a small piece of the 2013 cuts from sequestration, Carter’s senior adviser James Swartout said.
“There’s no way that we can continue to function under sequestration without enacting furloughs,” said one Pentagon official, who asked not to be identified. “It equates to approximately a 20 percent pay cut for five months. I mean, you would notice that.”
A spokeswoman asked to confirm the account acknowledged that officials have been preparing for sequester under the instructions of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, but said no final decisions have been made.
“We are intensifying planning for longer-term budgetary uncertainty, to include assessing the number, duration and nature of unpaid civilian furloughs that would be required if an additional $45 billion in cuts are made due to sequestration on March 2, 2013,” Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins told POLITICO. “Enacting civilian unpaid furloughs would be a measure of last resort. At this point, none of the relevant details have been finalized.”
Time is an issue — the period from mid-April to the end of September is about 24 weeks, which may not cross the threshold of the 30 total days the Pentagon needs by law for congressional approval, meaning the department could potentially begin furloughs even without action by Congress.
Sequestration would restrict $500 billion in defense budget growth over the next 10 years, and defense officials have warned that the sudden drop in funding might force them to furlough workers.
Earlier this month, budget expert Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments told reporters that DoD would be forced to implement rotating monthly furloughs for “virtually all” of its 791,000 civilian workers in the event of sequestration.
The Pentagon has already announced layoffs of up to 46,000 temporary civilian workers. Military commanders have until Feb. 10 to identify which of those need to be exempted for “mission-critical activities,” Swartout said.
The defense official added that Pentagon officials are worried about how the furloughs will affect morale for civilian employees — who already haven’t received pay raises in years.
“We’re deeply concerned, not only because the work that our civilians do provides significant value and it’s essential to the functioning of the Department of Defense,” the official said. “The work that our civilians do is not optional — we have civilian workers because they provide value.”