U.S. Defense Department civilians to go on unpaid leave for 11 days

WASHINGTON Tue May 14, 2013 6:24pm EDT

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is seen in a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, May 2, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is seen in a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, May 2, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon told its civilian workforce on Tuesday that it will put most of them on unpaid leave for one day a week starting in July, a deeply unpopular move that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel blamed on sweeping budget cuts imposed by Congress.

The U.S. defense budget has taken the single biggest hit from automatic spending cuts, known in Washington as the "sequester," and Hagel said he had tried to spare civilians the financial hardship ahead by first cutting elsewhere.

"We did everything we could not to get to this day, this way," Hagel told an audience of Defense Department employees.

"But that's it. That's where we are ... And I'm sorry about that."

For those of the more than 600,000 civilian defense employees affected, the decision translates to a salary cut of roughly 20 percent during the furlough period - which runs from July 8 until the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

Although the total will vary, most civilian employees will be on unpaid leave for 11 days, shorter than the earlier Pentagon estimates of 14 days issued in March and 22 days in February.

But many civilians had hoped Hagel would find other ways to cut the budget or allow individual branches of the military to shield the civilian employees entirely. The move is expected to save $1.8 billion.

Although civilians will be able to challenge their furloughs, personal issues like financial hardship will not be taken into account, one U.S. defense official said.

Only vital missions are being protected. A second U.S. defense official, briefing reporters, said more than 120,000 civilian employees would be exempted from furloughs, including employees stationed in combat zones and medical personnel.

Employees in Navy shipyards are also being exempted because of fear their absence would delay maintenance of nuclear ships, according to an attachment to a memo by Hagel to Pentagon leaders released to reporters.

"No one service, no one's going to be protected more than anybody else," Hagel said.

MORE FURLOUGHS NEXT YEAR?

The mandatory budget cuts - which were included in a 2011 law aimed at reducing the federal government's wide deficits - took effect on March 1 and total $109 billion through September 30, including a $46 billion reduction in defense spending.

The cuts will deepen in the coming years unless Congress acts to reverse them.

Indeed, Hagel offered faint hope to Pentagon employees that the situation will improve in the 2014 fiscal year, when the sequester will impose an additional $52 billion in cuts to projected Defense Department spending.

"I can't guarantee you that we're not going to be in some kind of a similar situation next year," Hagel said, asked by one employee for any assurance more furloughs were not on their way.

There was limited reaction from Congress, with concerned lawmakers - including those representing military-heavy districts - calling for a need to free the Defense Department from the automatic cuts.

But it was unclear whether the furloughs would create any additional momentum in Congress, where gridlock has thwarted compromise on budget by Democrats and Republicans.

U.S. military leaders have warned the cuts will erode the military's readiness to respond in the future to global tensions - sobering words as the Pentagon weighs threats from North Korea, advances in Iran's nuclear program and the fallout from Syria's civil war.

Hagel noted steps the Pentagon has already taken to slash costs, including the Air Force cutting flying time and the Navy and Marine Corps scaling back training and deployments. The Navy decided, for example, to reduce the presence of U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf from two carriers to one.

"Even after taking all these actions, we are still short of needed operating funds," Hagel said in his memo.

The next steps for the Pentagon are unclear. Last month, Hagel said in a major policy speech that he had ordered a review that could lead to additional belt-tightening measures such as reducing the number of generals, paring back the civilian workforce and moving to stem spiraling costs of new weapons.

The Pentagon is also urging Congress to move forward with a new round of military base closures. Closing domestic military bases is deeply unpopular with lawmakers due to the damage such cutbacks can cause to local economies.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Will Dunham and Mohammad Zargham)

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Comments (24)
steveb. wrote:
Good.

May 14, 2013 10:43am EDT  --  Report as abuse
littlelzard wrote:
And while they are all home wondering if they will be able to pay thier bills they will have plenty of time to write thank you notes to all of thier GOP congressman who will continue to get full pay and benefits.

May 14, 2013 11:07am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Here is a partial list that I have compiled so far:

1. Fish and Wildlife Office of Law Enforcement recently canceled plans to train 24 new agents who investigate criminal activity

2. Fourteen vacancies for wildlife inspectors who eyeball people and shipping containers at major ports of entry also will not be filled. Nor will three positions at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory, the world’s only forensic outfit to investigate wildlife crimes. Overtime and weekend inspections of shipments will be scrapped.

3. Yellowstone gets real about budget cuts and people get angry

4. Merrill Lynch said on March 11th that job creation will likely shrink to below 100,000 in April and May as “sequester-related job cuts are implemented.”

5. reduced jobless benefits to anyone who is on the federal government’s extended unemployment program.

6. The Archives’ exhibit spaces are usually open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day with hours extended until 7 p.m. March 15 through Labor Day, but this year administrators have canceled those extra hours. They are also doing away with extended hours in research rooms at two locations.

7. the Washington Metro-Area Transit Authority – could also take a hit if cuts persist. Metro could lose about $8 million in federal funding, according to spokesman Philip Stewart. On top of that, with furloughed federal workers staying home instead of riding the rails, WMATA stands to lose millions more. If that’s the case, picture the road to recovery from sequester as one long escalator, frozen in place.

8. 5,000 contract workers losing their jobs and thousands of FBI employees being furloughed, the national intelligence director said on March 12th.

9. The U.S. Air Force plans to ground about a third of its active-duty force of combat planes and the U.S. Navy cancelled the rest of the popular Blue Angels’ aerobatic team’s season because of automatic federal budget cuts.

10. the Navy had to cancel a six-month deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in order to reach its spending reduction targets

11. By the end of the yeartwo-third of our Army units, active-duty Army units and all of our reserve units will not be ready to fight other wars

12. National Institutes of Health, the country’s largest supporter of basic research, is facing $1.6 billion in cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year. While most research grants from the NIH are awarded for a four or five-year duration, the federal budget operates on a fiscal-year time frame. Which means effects are immediate and likely to impact research that’s already underway.

13. Public Defenders – In New York the cuts amount to one-fifth of the office’s budget between now and the end of September and will require furloughing 30 trial lawyers for five and a half weeks each during that time. Federal defenders will not be able to take the time to visit clients in prison or search for facts that could raise doubts about clients’ guilt. more defendants who ordinarily would be represented by a federal defender in new cases between now and September will likely end up with court-appointed private lawyers. According to academic studies, such lawyers often achieve worse results at a higher cost.

14. FAA officials told airline-industry executives on April 24th that the cutbacks, due to start Sunday, could delay as many as 6,700 flights a day at 13 of the nation’s biggest airports

15. The nation’s cash-strapped weather-forecasting system, is about to get pinched on the verge of a hurricane season expected to be busier than normal. A federal union representative warns that a hiring freeze plus furloughs threaten public safety. Flight crews for aircraft known as Hurricane Hunters will have to take turns being furloughed. Weather satellites will remain on track, though the offices that monitor them will get squeezed.

16. Senior services suffer sequestration funding cuts.

17. Sequester hits workers processing federal-retiree pension claims

May 14, 2013 11:38am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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