Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has announced that the Department of Defense is reducing to 11 the number of unpaid furlough days that 680,000 of the Pentagon's civilian employees will have to face through September. The number of furlough days is now half what had been projected early in the year when sequestration cuts kicked in.
The DoD cut the hours of civilian employees to accommodate the across-the-board budget cuts prescribed in sequestration .
The military services have 800,000 civilian employees, but early on the 50,000 foreign workers based overseas were exempted from the furloughs. With an additional 70,000 further exemptions announced Tuesday only 680,000 of the employees will be subject to furloughs. The furloughs will amount to $1.8 billion in savings for the Pentagon.
The furloughs will begin the week of July 8 and affected employees will take off one unpaid furlough day per week through the end of September, which is the end of the fiscal year. Hagel said the number of furlough days may be reduced should the department's financial situation improve.
Hagel announced the furloughs in a town hall with Defense Department civilians held at a government office building in Alexandria, Va., that is home to 6,400 Pentagon civilians.
In making the announcement Hagel said he and top staffers had done all they could to prevent the furloughs from taking place. "I tried everything , we did everything we could not to get to this day this way."
He said he was mindful of how the furloughs would be an economic hardship to civilian employees. "I'm sorry about that," said Hagel. "I know this is going to be difficult, but we'll get through this. I said to everyone going in, we're going in together, we're coming out together."
Hagel said he could not guarantee that the Defense Department would not have to go through the furlough process again next year. "A good amount of this is out of our control," said Hagel.
A senior Defense official later told reporters that planning the furloughs was "one of the most distasteful things I've ever had to do" in all his years in government.
When sequestration went into effect earlier this year the Pentagon estimated that its civilian workforce would be required to take 22 days of forced unpaid time off. But shortly after Congress passed the Continuing Resolution that granted the Department more flexibility in its funding, that number shrank to 14 and the start date was pushed back to mid-June.
The four military services and Defense agencies will all carry out furloughs for their civilian employees, with the Army bearing the brunt as it is the largest of the services.
In April, Rear Admiral Joseph Mulloy, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, said the Navy had as a goal eliminating the need for any sequester days raising the possibility that the Navy might seek an exemption from the furloughs.
"These people…are people turning wrenches, training personnel, fixing gear, riding on our ships. In fact, all of our major ships usually have civilians either meeting them in port or riding them port to port from [Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command] in-service teams maintaining this," Rear Admiral Mulloy said in a Navy news briefing. "Hence, our issue on furlough is to get down to zero."
A Senior Defense official said the Navy will have to go through with its furloughs. However, the official said that Navy ship yard workers were being granted exemptions because their jobs and projects were seen as mission essential.