NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The Virginia congressional delegation wants the Pentagon to change the rules on civilian furloughs, hoping to lessen the impact in a state where 88,000 people are facing a significant pay cut.
The state's two senators and 10 representatives sent a letter Thursday to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, urging him to grant flexibility to individual services in implementing furloughs, because some branches of the military might avoid them entirely.
Spending reductions under sequestration have prompted the furloughs. At first, the Defense Department said it would furlough all of its civilian workforce for 22 days – one day a week starting in late April and continuing through September.
Then it reconsidered, and now the furloughs reportedly will be 14 days, to be applied uniformly across all departments. Still, that's an effective 20 percent cut in gross pay. Giving service secretaries and individual agencies leeway might give thousands of employees a reprieve.
"We understand that the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force may be able to complete the fiscal year without conducting any civilian furloughs," the letter states.
Of all the states, Virginia has the highest number of Defense Department civilians subject to furlough, about 88,000, the Pentagon says. Roughly 40,000 are in Hampton Roads.
Pentagon civilians perform a variety of tasks at military installations, such as child services and hospital care. At Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, members of the Virginia National Guard that help maintain the F-22 Raptor are facing furloughs, as are civilian workers who handle ordnance at Yorktown Naval Weapons Station.
The Virginia letter states that blanket-wide furloughs "would not be a vote of solidarity; instead, requiring defense civilians to take unpaid furlough days when they are not necessary would unacceptably erode employee morale."
The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and included the four House members from Hampton Roads: Reps. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake; Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News; Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland and Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach.