Pentagon puts brakes on sending out furlough notices – for now
WASHINGTON – A plan to issue furlough notices Friday to the Pentagon’s civilian employees is on hold after Congress on Thursday sent a resolution funding the federal government for another six months to President Barack Obama’s desk for signature into law.
The continuing resolution averts a government shutdown later this month, and frees up money for Defense Department operations and maintenance accounts, potentially reducing the number of furlough days.
But no decisions have yet been made on how many days pay employees stand to lose, officials said.
“This delay will allow the Department to carefully analyze the impact of pending Continuing Resolution legislation on the Department's resources,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a written statement. “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."
According to an email sent Thursday by Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright and DOD Comptroller Robert Hale, “we are delaying the release of furlough notices to our civilian employees for approximately two weeks. We do not expect to release furlough notices until 5 April.”
Because of a 30-day notice required by federal law, furloughs could begin no sooner than early May under the new plan. Previously, officials said the planned start date for furloughs was April 26.
The email to Pentagon managers said that the number of furlough days could remain at 22, but a defense official speaking on condition of anonymity said it was likely the number of days would be at least slightly reduced.
If the department goes ahead with the plan for 22 days, it would require more than one day of furlough in some weeks in order to pack all 22 days in before the close of fiscal year 2013 at the end of September.
Wright and Hale said in their email they had completed deliberations on which employees would be exempt from furloughs, and the plan awaited approval from Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
Speaking earlier this month, Hale said all but a few categories of workers are in line for furlough. Exempt are those working in combat zones, a small number of top defense officials who were confirmed by the Senate, nonappropriated funds employees, and those “who are required to maintain safety of life or property.” But even some firefighters, medical personnel and other emergency workers will be furloughed as agencies slim down to minimum staffing to save money.
It is unlikely the new budgetary realities will change the decisions about who will be furloughed, a defense official said.
The CR does not replace the $85 billion in federal spending cuts triggered March 1 when Congress failed to pass deficit-cutting legislation, but it gives the Defense Department greater flexibility in how to manage the cuts, officials said.
“It’s not additional money, but it’s money going into the correct pots,” the defense official said on background.