By Kristin MolinaroMarch 29, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (March 27, 2013) -- Civilian government employees should not expect to receive a furlough notice this week. The Department of Defense announced Thursday it will delay sending notifications until about April 5 to give the department time to analyze the impact of the pending continuing resolution legislation that is now before Congress.
The continuing resolution is expected to be extended to the end of the current fiscal year if the president signs the appropriation bill approved by Congress. This would avoid a potential government shutdown Thursday.
"We believe the delay is a responsible step to take in order to assure our civilian employees that we do not take lightly the prospect of furloughs and the resulting decrease in employee pay," said Pentagon Press Secretary George Little in a statement to reporters.
It is not yet known what impact the delay may have on the number of planned furlough days for fiscal 2013.
"The legislation could have some impact on the overall number of furlough days," said Blanche Robinson, director of the Civilian Personnel and Advisory Center here. "But no decisions have been reached on this matter, especially since the legislation hasn't been signed into law. The number of furlough days at this point remains up to 22 for this fiscal year."
With furloughs appearing imminent last week, Fort Benning reached an agreement March 19 with the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees Union about how the furlough will be executed if it becomes necessary, Robinson said.
The agreement with the union will impact all General Schedule civilian employees in the Maneuver Center of Excellence, Garrison, Medical Activity, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, Mission and Installation Contracting Command, Network Enterprise Center, Dental Activity and the Tank Automotive Command, among others.
An agreement between the union and Fort Benning leaders established guidelines for furlough implementation, parameters and obligations on both sides.
Unless specifically exempted, all employees will be furloughed 22 days, or 176 hours, generally, before the end of the fiscal year, with no more than 16 hours of furlough time in a pay period.
Robinson said the approved agreement provides maximum flexibility in scheduling. Supervisors will determine schedules based upon mission requirements. However, employee requests will be considered in making final determinations. In the event scheduling cannot be accommodated without adverse impact on the mission, other factors such as an employee's service computation date, compelling medical or personal needs and specific organization requirements will also be considered.
Fort Benning reached a similar agreement March 13 with the Federal Employee Metal Trades Council.
The Defense Commissary Agency approved a plan this week that will entail closing the Fort Benning commissary one day a week during the furlough period. The designated closure day each week would be Monday. However, if the commissary is already scheduled to be closed on a given Monday, such as during a holiday, then store hours will be changed to reflect a closure on the next business day.
What delay means for notifications
With notifications now pushed to the first week of April, the earliest the potential administrative furlough can now begin, by law, is May.
Once DOD officials make the decision to furlough employees, notifications will be sent through the respective chains of command and distributed by supervisors to the affected personnel. These notifications, which employees will be asked to sign, will inform employees that they may face a furlough in 30 days. The notification letters will also outline specific procedures for replying to the decision if an employee believes he or she has a compelling reason not to be furloughed.
Employees have seven calendar days from receipt of the notification letter to respond orally or in writing, to review supporting material and to furnish any affidavits or evidence on why they should not be furloughed.
The deciding official will make a determination based on the information available. At the end of the 30-day period, a second letter will go out informing employees that they will be furloughed or that their request for exemption was approved.
Upon implementation of the furlough, employees who wish to appeal their agency's decision will have 30 days from their first furlough day or from the date they received their decision notice, whichever is later, to challenge it, according to guidance published by the Office of Personnel Management. Appeals will be reviewed by the Merit Systems Protection Board. If an appeal is not filed within the 30-day timeframe, the board may dismiss it unless the petitioner shows good cause for the delay.
Non-bargaining unit employees may appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Bargaining unit employees may grieve actions under the negotiated agreement or appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, but not both. Employees may contact their union representative for more information about their union's procedures.
The appeal form and the board's regulations are available at www.mspb.gov.
About budget uncertainty
The Army's current fiscal uncertainty had two main contributors -- sequestration and the lack of a defense budget, which came as a result of the 2011 federal government debt-ceiling crisis. Sequestration was never supposed to be triggered, rather it was meant to be a forcing function, so that a congressional "supercommittee" would reach an agreement on deficit reduction.
To avoid defaulting on U.S. debts in 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act (BCA). The BCA requires the Department of Defense to cut more than $487 billion from the defense base budget during the next 10 years, beginning in fiscal 2013. Additionally, the BCA tasked a "supercommittee" to create a plan in December 2011 to cut $1.5 trillion during the coming 10 years.
If this plan did not materialize, Congress would grant a $1.2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling, but would begin triggering cuts in the amount of $1.2 trillion starting in January 2013 with half of the federal government cuts coming from defense. This trigger of across-the-board cuts is the sequestration the Army now faces.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 deferred sequestration to March 1, 2013. The defense budget cuts now required are roughly $46 billion under the new law.
Prior to last week, Congress had not approved an appropriation bill for this fiscal year, which compounded the defense budget situation. Without a budget in place, the Army has been forced to operate under a six-month continuing resolution, called a CR.
The bill, if signed by the president, would extend current federal funding authority. To view the bill that is entitled H.R. 933, Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act 2013, visit www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/pending-legislation.
As the Defense Department grapples with furloughing its civilian workforce, more reduction in DoD spending will be required. Even if most of the 800,000 civilian DoD workforce is furloughed, the $5 billion in savings from the furlough will still leave the department $41 billion short of meeting the required target cut for this fiscal year.