Despite last-ditch efforts to stave off Defense Department furloughs, roughly 652,000 civilian DOD employees — 85 percent of the civilian workforce — will face 11 unpaid days off starting Monday.
During the last week to lobby Congress and the Pentagon, the Federal Workers Alliance sent more than 2,200 letters from 47 states and Washington, D.C., to nearly 300 members of Congress. Their argument: the Pentagon had the ability to stave off furloughs completely by moving money around. The Pentagon’s conclusive counter: The money is needed where it is to maintain readiness.
“Despite the best efforts of defense workers to implore lawmakers to come to their senses and cancel this nonsensical furlough, it appears that it will indeed go into effect,” said Matthew Biggs, spokesperson for Federal Workers Alliance, an organization of 22 unions that cover 300,000 federal workers.
Speaking at a June 28 town hall meeting with the soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo., Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel emphasized the Pentagon had taken every step it could to avoid furlough days.
“In the end, I had really no choice but to make some tough decisions on furloughing, because I could not cut any more into — into readiness,” he said. “And we’ve already cut into readiness. You know that we are standing down 16 Air Force squadrons. We’re not sailing a lot of ships. No new training in the Army, and there are other consequences.”
Initially, the Pentagon had anticipated needing to furlough civilian employees for 22 days to meet the even, across-the-board sequester cuts. But Congress’s most recent stop-gap budget — which funds the government through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year — gave the agency some flexibility in how it implemented the cuts. The Pentagon rolled $10 billion into its operations and maintenance account, which covers the majority of civilian salaries. In May, Hagel announced he had used that flexibility to cut the number of furlough days to 11.
Biggs said the $10 billion should be enough to cut that number to zero. The Pentagon initially said the 22 furlough days would save $5 billion. Logically, Biggs and others argue, the extra $10 billion should be enough to offset that $5 billion. DOD is expected to save $1.8 billion from the 11 furlough days.
“The fact that there is money in both the operation and maintenance account … to fund salaries the remainder of FY13 makes [the furlough days] even harder to swallow,” Biggs said. “It is also reflective of the fact that this is a political decision with the fingerprints of both parties all over it.”
Managers will not be allowed to “borrow military manpower” or pass work off to contract workers to make up for furloughed employees, according to a June 28 memo a Pentagon official sent to the joint chiefs.
“While civilian furloughs will undoubtedly disrupt the mission and have a negative impact on productivity, it has been determined that the risk associated with that workload loss, while unavoidable, is acceptable,” the memo said.