By Lori EganJune 6, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (June 5, 2013) -- Supervisors delivered approximately 4,000 furlough letters to Fort Benning's workforce this past week.
Beginning July 8, Department of Defense civilians will take an unpaid furlough day each week until the Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
For employees, this is roughly 20 percent of their pay for 11 weeks. For the Defense budget, this equates to a $1.8 billion savings in the operations and maintenance funds, which is a down payment on the $22 billion shortfall caused by sequestration.
Locally, the furlough savings is estimated to be $8 million. This is based on the salaries of civilian employees assigned to Training and Doctrine Command, Installation Management Command and U.S. Army Medical Command positions.
"Obviously, this decision will negatively impact our incredibly talented and dedicated civilian workforce," said Col. Jeffrey Fletcher, garrison commander. "Any time you take away a person's livelihood, or decrease it -- it's not a good thing. The impact of the furloughs on our civilian workforce is not lost on me, or the Army leadership.
"While the president stated military personnel are exempt from the furlough, some effects may be felt by our Soldiers and Family members. For instance, in the form of services our civilians provide, there may be reduced hours or increased wait times for some services.
Because the furlough days didn't start earlier in the year, the post's leadership has had time to try to minimize the inconvenience for Soldiers and Families, Fletcher said.
Some known changes include the commissary closing on Mondays beginning July 8, increased wait times at the access control points and Fort Benning schools closing Aug. 23 and 30, Sept. 13, 26 and 27.
For the latest information on the furlough, go to www.benning.army.mil and click on the Maneuver Center Focus link regarding budget, furlough, sequestration news.
Q. What is a furlough?
A. A furlough is the placing of an employee in a temporary non-duty, non-pay status because of lack of funds, or other non-disciplinary reasons.
Q. Under administrative furlough, when/how will employees be notified?
A. Employees will receive at least 30 days notification prior to being furloughed. Employees will have 7 calendar days to reply.
Q. What will happen if I receive a furlough notice and don't provide a response within 7 days? Are these 7 calendar days?
A. The deciding official will make a decision based on the other information available to him or her. Failure to respond does not delay possible action.
Q. If a furlough is implemented, will a personnel action be processed?
A. Yes, a Standard Form 50 will be generated.
Q. Is it true a reduction in force will be coming next?
A. While we expect next year to be fiscally challenging, currently there are no plans for a reduction in force at TRADOC activities in FY14 associated with the need to address FY 13 fiscal uncertainties.
PAY, LEAVE, SCD, BENEFITS
Q. May I volunteer to do my job on a non-pay basis during any hours or days designated as furlough time off?
A. No. Unless otherwise authorized by law, an agency may not accept the voluntary services of an employee.
Q. Will the furlough impact my service computation date for earning annual leave?
A. For purposes of computing accrual rates for annual leave (i.e., 4, 6, or 8 hours per pay period), an aggregate of 6 months of non-pay status in a calendar year is creditable service. The service computation date must be adjusted by the amount of non-pay time in excess of 6 months in a calendar year (i.e., excess time is added to the employee's service computation date).
Q. Will the furlough impact my leave accrual?
A. The accumulation of non-pay status hours during a leave year can affect the accrual of annual leave and sick leave. For example, when a full-time employee with an 80-hour bi-weekly tour of duty accumulates a total of 80 hours of non-pay status from the beginning of the leave year (either in one pay period, or over the course of several pay periods), the employee will not earn annual and sick leave in the pay period in which that 80 hours accumulation is reached. For part-time employees, leave accrual is prorated based on hours in a pay status in each pay period; thus time in nonpay status reduces leave accrual in each pay period containing such time.
Q. May an employee take leave without pay (LWOP) under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) during an administrative furlough period?
A. Yes, an employee may take LWOP under FMLA. Employees may designate any hours and/or days of LWOP under FMLA as furlough time off in order to meet the furlough requirements. During a furlough any LWOP and FMLA that is scheduled to be taken instead of a furlough day off will not count toward an employee's 12-week FMLA leave entitlement. Employees who take LWOP under FMLA instead of a furlough day off may not later substitute paid leave for the days of LWOP. Agencies are not required to provide an employee with a furlough notice if the employee is not expected to work during the furlough period (e.g., an employee who has just given birth and has requested 12-weeks of unpaid leave under the FMLA). If the employee is scheduled to return to work from LWOP during the furlough period, the employee should be provided with a furlough notice (effective on the date of scheduled return).
Q. Will the furlough impact high-3?
A. Generally there will be no effect on the high-3 average pay unless the furlough causes the employee to be in a non-pay status for more than 6 months during the calendar year.
Q. Can premium pay, such as overtime pay, be authorized?
A. Based on current Army guidance, commands are prohibited from using premium pay (compensatory time or overtime) to offset furloughs.
Q. Who pays for the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) of furloughed employees? Will sequestration impact an employee's benefits under FEHB?
A. Agencies continue to be responsible for the agency contribution of any furloughed employees and each employee remains responsible for his or her employee contribution. If an employee's paycheck is insufficient to cover his or her share, the enrollee share will accumulate and will then be withheld from pay upon return to pay status. Detailed guidance on employee benefits during an administrative furlough is found on page 6 of OPM's Guidance on Administrative Furloughs.
THRIFT SAVINGS PLAN
Q. What will happen to my TSP if I am furloughed?
A. Employees can opt to contribute a specific dollar amount, or a percentage based upon their pay, to their 401(k)-style retirement accounts. Those who use the percentage method will see a smaller contribution if they are furloughed. For example, if employees contribute 5 percent of their paycheck each pay period to their TSP accounts, then that amount (as well as the government's matching contribution) will be proportionally reduced.
Q. Can I borrow money from my TSP account?
A. If you expect to be furloughed on a periodic basis (for example, two days per pay period), you can take a TSP loan but will be responsible for keeping your loan payments up-to-date if you don't earn enough per pay period to make each required loan payment.
Q. Can I withdraw money from my TSP account?
A. While you are in a non-pay status, you can request an in-service withdrawal. There are two types of in-service withdrawals: age-based withdrawals for participants who are age 59 and 1/2 or older, and withdrawals for financial hardship. If you request a financial hardship withdrawal, you must be able to certify (under penalty of perjury) that you have a financial hardship and that the amount of your request is not greater than the dollar amount of your financial hardship.
Additional information on effects of furlough on TSP can be found at www.tsp.gov.
Q. Who will be responsible for tracking my furlough hours?
A. Organization managers/supervisors will be responsible for tracking and making sure the correct number of hours are entered and certified in either Defense Civilian Payroll System (DCPS) or Automated Time and Attendance System (ATAAPS).
Q. Will I have to come off my compressed work schedule?
A. There is no current Army or TRADOC mandate to change work schedules. However, this is an option that may be considered in impact and implementation bargaining sessions to be conducted across the Army. The DCPS and ATAAPS both are set-up to accept furlough time as a partial day.
Q. May an employee work during a period designated as furlough time off to earn credit hours under a flexible work schedule?
A. No. An employee may not work to earn credit hours during hours or days designated as furlough time off.
Q. May an employee work during a period designated as furlough time off to accumulate religious compensatory time off hours for religious observances?
A. No. An employee may not work during a period designated as furlough time off, even to accrue religious compensatory time.
Q. Are employees entitled to unemployment compensation while on furlough?
A. It is possible that furloughed employees may become eligible for unemployment compensation. State unemployment compensation requirements differ. The Department of Labor's website provides links to individual state offices at www.servicelocator.org/OWSLinks.asp.
The furlough process
Letters of furlough notice will continue to be served through June 5 to the individual employees subject to furlough.
Once employees have their letters, they have seven calendar days to reply to the notice if they think their position should be exempt from furlough. The reply period is through June 12.
From June 5 through July 5, deciding officials will make a determination on the replies and decision letters will be served.
Furloughs will begin no earlier than July 8 and continue through Sept. 30.