WASHINGTON — Plans to trim the paychecks of the vast majority of civilian Defense Department employees this summer rolled forward this week as more than 652,000 workers began receiving notices that they’d be furloughed for up to 11 days this summer.
Pentagon officials say all furlough notices will be delivered by Wednesday. Once received, the clock starts ticking on a one-week period for the employee to appeal for reconsideration of the furlough notice.
“Employees are given at least seven calendar days to answer orally and/or in writing to the proposal notice and furnish documentary evidence in support of his or her answer,” Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde said in an email. “The ‘deciding official’ reviews the merits of each package and provides a written decision whether to proceed with furlough.”
Deciding officials, Hull-Ryde said, are generally local installation commanders.
Employees likely shouldn’t pin their hopes on getting a furlough decision overturned by arguing seniority, stellar performance, financial hardship — or possibly any reason. When asked what a valid argument for overturning a furlough decision might be, a senior defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, earlier this month told reporters, “I can’t think of a reason right now.”
Officials have argued that the sweeping, “across-the-board” nature of the cuts, with exceptions granted for reasons of safety or national security, means that appeals that claim the furloughs being applied unfairly probably won’t work.
DOD has granted furlough exceptions to civilians in war zones, some medical workers, and Navy shipyard workers, among others. Non-appropriated funds employees, foreign nationals and some high-ranking, Senate-confirmed officials are also exempt. And citing the damage done to the military by a growing number of sexual assaults, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week announced that hundreds of civilian workers in sexual assault prevention and response programs are also exempt.
The head of the largest union of federal employees said workers should not be dissuaded from pressing their rights.
“The only person who does not have a chance of having their furlough overturned is the one who does not file” an appeal, said J. David Cox, national president of American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 270,000 defense workers.
If the DOD appeal process fails, Cox encouraged workers to file appeals with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, a federal agency that will handle appeals of furlough decisions from throughout the U.S. government.
Officials from the board have said their office could be swamped and become backlogged if hundreds of thousands of federal workers begin filing appeals.
Cox said that could send a message to Congress and the president, who are together guilty of “an absolute failure to govern.”
Automatic defense budget cuts known as sequestration cut nearly $40 billion out of the DOD budget this year after Congress failed to reach a deficit cutting agreement. Defense officials say furloughs will save $1.8 billion.
But DOD workers aren’t just collecting paychecks — they’re protecting the country, Cox said. They shouldn’t be shy about making their displeasure felt over furloughs, he said.
“This is their absolute right,” Cox said. “We are encouraging every member to exercise their right.”