Defense explains furlough plans, timetable


The Defense Department told its civilian federal employee workforce Wednesday that most of them will be placed on unpaid furloughs if sequestration should occur and gave them a timetable for the process.

In a letter to DoD workforce, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that if sequestration is not averted, "DoD will be forced to place the vast majority of its civilian workforce on administrative furlough."

The employee base that could potentially be sequestered is about 750,000 and as the budget stands now, "we feel we don't have any choice but to impose furloughs" said Under Secretary of Defense and Chief Financial Officer Robert Hale in a Wednesday press briefing.

Hale said that reductions in force would actually cost DoD money because of unused leave and severance pay, "so furloughs are really the only way we have to quickly cut civilian personnel funding."

Hale said that DoD has notified Congress of its plan, which started a 45-day clock and "until that clock runs out we cannot proceed with furloughs." He said this means furloughs will not start until late April, even if sequestration is triggered on March 1.

"If furloughs are enacted, civilians will experience a 20 percent decrease in their pay between late April and September," Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright said at the same press briefing.

The rest of the timeline for furloughs, said Hale, is expected to be:

  • Defense components are now being asked to identify specific exceptions to furloughs;
  • "at some point in mid-March" DoD will send out a notification to each employee who may be furloughed;
  • in April, employees will be sent a decision if they are to be furloughed; and
  • after they receive the decision employees have one week to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Civilians deployed in combat zones, those who are determined to be required to maintain safety of life or property and those who are paid with non-appropriated funds will be exempt from furloughs, said Hale.

Defense expects to save between $4 billion and $5 billion through fiscal 2013 through these furloughs.

Wright said that benefits such as insurance, health care and retirement will generally continue, but notes DoD is still working out how best to maintain these services with a furloughed workforce since, for instance, about 40 percent of DoD medical providers are civilians.

For the 46,000 temporary employees that may be terminated, Hale said that presently between 6,000 and 7,000 have either been laid off or are in the process of being laid off, "but I don't think that's probably the end. I think you'll see more."

For fiscal 2014, Hale said he cannot rule out reductions in force. Discretionary funding caps set by the Budget Control Act for after fiscal 2013 will require a new defense strategy  and that would require Defense to look into reductions in the size of the military workforce and the civilian workforce, he said.

For more:
- watch the press conference or read a transcript
- read Secretary Panetta's message to DoD employees

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