Post town halls address furloughs
April 5, 2013
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Defense Department civilians can expect fewer unpaid furloughs days this year than originally anticipated.
The Pentagon reduced the number of furlough days after Congress passed a government funding bill that included an additional $10 billion for defense spending for the rest of the fiscal year. Employees were first told to expect 22 days of unpaid leave, but that number has been reduced to 14.
The decision would affect Fort Jackson's almost 3,500 civilian employees for the rest of the fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30. The furloughs are projected to begin in June.
Fort Jackson has been asked to cut 5.5 percent of its budget because of across-the-board spending cuts enacted by sequestration, which began in March. Col. Ken Royalty, Fort Jackson chief of staff, said that amounted to $2.2 million in cuts, which followed on the heels of much more significant reductions adopted in 2012.
When the 2012 fiscal year began, he said the post operated on a $58 million budget. Before the end of the year, that number had dropped to $38, and now command must eliminate another $2.2 million. More frustrating, he said, is that Fort Jackson technically has no operating budget for the year.
"How we fund Fort Jackson right now is month to month," he told an audience of government employees last week during a town hall meeting at the Post Theater. "On the 29th of every month, I have to submit (how much money we need) to do training, to cut the grass, to do civilian payroll ... that's where we are right now."
Both Royalty and Deputy Chief of Staff Gerald Henderson were present for last week's meeting to answer questions about the furloughs. Henderson said the furlough changes will be "command specific," which might cause some confusion because the post operates under several different commands.
"We work as a team here, but everyone has a different slant on what the furlough means," he said. "There's some degree of variance."
Henderson recommended civilian employees reach out to human resources officers and the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center to determine how the furlough will specifically affect them.
The furloughs will also impact personal benefits such as available sick time and leave. Once an employee misses 80 hours of work because of furloughs, he or she will stop accruing leave for furlough days. For sick leave, employees will stop accruing time after 160 hours of unpaid leave.
Furlough days will be at the discretion of command, but employees will not be allowed to take their furlough days in blocks. Instead, days off will be used one day each week, with the actual days to be determined my administrators.
"Employees don't have the discretion to say, 'I want to take all (furlough) days up front,'" said Andrea Gardner, Civilian Personnel Advisory Center Director for Fort Stewart and Fork Jackson.
Henderson said furlough days will be distributed in a way designed to avoid affecting individual command missions.
"It's tied to the mission, it's tied to personal needs, and the over-arching thing associated with all of it is that we do it fairly," he said.
Although furloughs might make it more difficult to use personal leave time, Gardner said there should still be adequate opportunities for employees to use the leave they have earned before the end of the year.
"The furlough ends at the end of September," she said. "You still have October, November and December to use leave. And, even during the furlough period, you can still apply for leave."
"You can't use the furlough for your sole justification for carrying leave over until the next year," Henderson said.
Royalty said there is no reason to believe Fort Jackson will return to the level of funding it received at the start of fiscal year 2012, even after the furloughs have been completed.
"There is a new norm," he said. "That's where we're going to operate."