Defense Department set to announce furlough plan Wednesday

Defense Department furloughs are the result of automatic budget cuts that were triggered on March 1, slashing $46 billion out of the current year’s budget because of Congress’ inability to agree on a deficit-cutting plan.


By CHRIS CARROLL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 19, 2013

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department intends to notify Congress on Wednesday of a plan to furlough nearly 800,000 civilian employees one day each week beginning in April, a defense official said Tuesday.

Federal law requires the Pentagon to warn Congress of furloughs at least 45 days in advance, and other regulations require direct notification of employees at least 30 days in advance.

Cutting workdays and pay will happen if Congress does not find a way to avert budget cuts known as “sequestration,” which are scheduled to kick in March 1 and cut $500 billion out of the Pentagon budget over the coming decade. Military leaders have warned of constricted operations, reduced weapons buys and eventually, reduced end strength for the services.

For now, however, military troops are spared a direct impact of sequestration on their paychecks, and most civilian workers will be the first to bear the brunt.

Defense officials say the most likely scenario would be 22 days of furlough – one day each week – beginning in the last week of April and running through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Exceptions include political appointees and employees whose pay comes from sources other than congressional appropriations. Those whose job functions are necessary to protect life and property would also be exempt.

Nevertheless, some DOD civilian firefighters, police officers, nurses and other emergency workers in fully staffed departments could still be furloughed.

“That doesn’t mean a wholesale protection of those jobs,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins. “They can still do minimum manning.”

Employees who work standard 40 hour weeks would lose about 8 hours of pay each week, eventually adding up to around a month of their yearly pay by the end of September. DOD is still trying to determine how to institute the furloughs and the resulting pay cuts for those whose jobs require them to work longer-than-normal shifts, Robbins said.

There are no plans for civilians to recoup pay that is lost during the furlough, as has happened before during government shutdowns, Robbins said.

Contributors to retirement savings plans who deduct a percentage of their pay will see smaller contributions during the furlough, resulting in lost compounding interest at retirement. Those who contribute a set amount each month would not lose out during retirement if they maintained their contribution, but would have smaller paychecks during the furlough.

Despite losing up to a month of pay, DOD civilians probably won’t be able to collect unemployment insurance, either. DOD devised the one-day-a-week furlough plan, officials say, to prevent employees in various U.S. states from collecting unemployment—payments that would come out of DOD’s pocket and necessitate cuts elsewhere.

Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_