By Nick Simeone and Karen ParrishMay 14, 2013
WASHINGTON (AFPS, May 14, 2013) -- After weeks of review, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has concluded budget cuts will require most of the department's civilian employees to be furloughed beginning in July, but that because of other efforts to deal with the shortfall, only half of the 22 days originally envisioned as temporary layoffs will now be necessary.
During a town hall meeting today at the Mark Center in Alexandria, Va., Hagel told Defense Department employees that most will be required to take 11 furlough days beginning July 8, one per pay period, through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2013.
Hagel noted that when he took the oath of office less than three months ago, post-sequester plans called for 22 furlough days. Congress allowed the department to shift or reprogram some funds in March that cut that number to 14. Now, he said, as maintenance, training, flying hours and ship deployments are increasingly affected, he had no choice but to authorize the furloughs.
"We kept going back. And finally, we got to a point where I could not responsibly go any deeper into cutting or jeopardizing our formations, our readiness and training," he said.
In a memo to senior department leaders, Hagel said he had "very reluctantly" concluded that major budgetary shortfalls triggered by a $37 billion cut in defense spending for fiscal year 2013 forced a decision he said he deeply regrets, and one that he acknowledged will disrupt lives and impact DOD operations.
However, he credited congressional passage of a defense appropriation bill in March in part for helping to reduce the number of days civilians would be temporarily laid off by half.
It may be possible later in the year to "knock that back" to an even lower number, the secretary said, but he emphasized that he could not promise such an outcome.
"I won't promise that," Hagel said. "You deserve fair, honest, direct conversation about this, and I'm not going to be cute with you at all. This is where we are. We'll continue to look at it, [and] we'll continue to do everything we can."
Hagel said the furloughs will affect every military department and almost every agency, with limited exceptions. "We will except civilians deployed to combat zones and civilians necessary to protect life and property," he wrote in his memo, adding that others will be excepted if forcing them to stay off the job would not free up money for other needs.
Employees set to be furloughed will begin receiving written notification June 5.
In March, defense officials had told civilian employees to expect as many as 22 furlough days during the current fiscal year, part of department-wide efforts to slash spending in response to across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration. In the time since, Hagel has been working to avoid or reduce the temporary layoffs, saying he had sought advice from department leaders and agencies, both civilian and military, but found no other way to help in closing the budget gap.
In his memo today, Hagel said if the budget situation eases, he would strongly prefer to end the furloughs early. "That is a decision I will make later in the year," he added.