Congress comes up with money to end Defense Department furloughs

DoD_sealSecretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued a memorandum today effectively ending the furloughs of hundreds of thousands of Department of Defense civilian employees in mid-August. Mandatory one-day-a-week leave of the civilian work force will end five weeks earlier than scheduled–as well as their corresponding twenty percent pay cut.

The furloughs were implemented in June as a Department-wide cost-cutting measure to cover a $11 billion shortfall because of the sequester, sweeping automatic budget cuts resulting from Congressional indecision. Active duty military considered to be part of the “war effort” were exempt from the furloughs, while 800,000 civil servants have been affected.

At first, civilian employees were told to expect 14 days of unpaid leave starting in May. Later the furloughs were downgraded to 11 days from July 8 to mid-September. Hagel’s announcement reduces them further to a total of six days.

According to Secretary Hagel, furloughs were among “limited options” to “close [the] gap” in the budget shortfall. Unsurprisingly, the twenty percent cut in pay resulting from the furloughs and its unequal application has caused dissension among the ranks.

Yet the constraints imposed by the Congressional sequester seem to have had more flexibility than anticipated, and the Department of Defense appears to have come up with some money as well. In the memo, Hagel writes:

Congress has approved most of a large reprogramming request that we submitted in mid-May, giving us flexibility to move funds across accounts. The military services have been aggressive in identifying ways to hold down costs, and we have been successful in shifting savings (including furlough savings) to meet our highest priority needs.

A memorandum Hagel issued earlier this week indicated that furloughs may be proposed again next year, or for as long as five years, in order to bring the bloated Defense budget in line with the President’s plan for reduction.

The odds are high for furloughs continuing under a sequester next year as Congress has yet to pass a balanced budget, opting to allocate funds on the basis of continuing resolutions. The $85 billion sequester reductions are the result of a Congress unable to agree on how much to cut government spending or where the cuts should be made.

Sequester has affected government services in a variety of sectors. In April, air traffic controllers were furloughed for several weeks, resulting in significant delays in air travel. The Friday before Congress was to travel home for spring break, they voted to approve a last minute re-allocation of $253 million from funds the FAA already had in another account.

The sequester also slashed budgets for Federal Parks, Head Start early education, Meals on Wheels, public defenders and many other services in which civil servants have had their hours reduced.

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Sequester ends blank check for Pentagon–badly

Friends Committee on National Legislation has a different take on automatic cuts to Pentagon spending: cut away. The core Pentagon budget still hasn’t fallen even after the scale-back in Iraq and Afghanistan, and almost equals that of Vietnam and the Cold War.

The New York Times agrees, but views the sequester as a blunt instrument.

The arbitrary budget cuts known as the sequester will exact a toll on not only domestic programs but military spending as well. Hence the howls in Washington from the Pentagon chieftains and their ardent Congressional supporters. But the truth is that the military budget not only can be cut, but should be cut, though not with this kind of political machete and not in the way the service chiefs say they plan to wield it…

If the Pentagon is ill prepared to deal with the sequester, it is to some extent a self-inflicted wound. Military leaders assumed the sequester would never happen and refused to mitigate its effects in advance. The Pentagon also does itself no favor by continuing to throw money at troubled weapons. As for the sequester’s impact on defense contractors, experts say the contractors have long known military spending was on the decline and built that into their projections.

Sins of sequestration: 88% of civilian workers furloughed from Department of Defense

Civilian workers at the DoD provide medical care to veterans./Photo by Garrett Hubbard/USA Today

The Pentagon is delivering the bad news to its employees: Of the 800,000 civilians who work for the Department of Defense, an estimated 700,000 would be furloughed for one day a week if the sequestration cuts occur.

Things that won’t be cut:

  • The official wars the U.S. is fighting
  • The secrets wars the U.S. is fighting
  • Secret holding facilities for “terrorists”
  • Drone bombing
  • Unnecessary weapons, such as Abrams MI Tanks.