DOD: No Civilian Furloughs Until Late April

By Susan Jones | February 21, 2013 | 9:14 AM EST

Robert F. Hale, the Defense Department's comptroller and chief financial officer, and Jessica L. Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, brief reporters at the Pentagon, Feb. 20, 2013. (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

( - If the sequester happens as scheduled on March 1, the Defense Department plans to furlough civilian employees, but those furloughs would not start until late April at the earliest.

Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) Robert F. Hale explained the procedure at a news conference on Wednesday:

"First, there's a whole series of notifications," Hale said. "We started the first one today, with the notification to Congress, along with a message by the secretary of defense to our civilian employees. That starts a 45-day clock ticking. Until that clock has run out, we cannot proceed with furloughs."

Hale said in mid-March, notification will be sent to each civilian Defense Department employee who may be furloughed. "That starts a 30-day clock, waiting period, before we can take any action. And then later on in April, we will send a decision to employees, and they have a one-week period, once we've made that decision, to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

"The bottom line is, furloughs would not actually start for DOD employees until late April," Hale said. He expressed the hope that even if sequestration does happen on March 1, Congress will "act to de-trigger sequestration or, if they can't accomplish that goal by March 1st, as the president suggested, to take some short-term action while they're dealing with the broader issue."

Defense officials said of the 800,000 civilian Defense Department employees, they still don't know the exact number that will be furloughed,  but it will probably be more than 50 percent. They're still in the process of determining which employees are exempt from furloughs.

For example, civilians deployed in combat zones will not be furloughed, nor will Senate-confirmed political appointees who are exempt by law.

Jessica Lynn Wright, the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and Readiness, said the Defense Department's civilian employees "provide invaluable support to national security, our nation's warfighters, and our families."

"These critical members of our workforce, they work in our depots. They maintain and repair our tanks, our aircraft, our ships. They teach our kids. They care for our children. They provide medical treatment to all of our beneficiaries. They take care of our wounded warrior. They provide services and programs such as sexual assault prevention and suicide prevention, just to name a few."

If furloughs are enacted, Wright said, civilians will experience a 20 percent pay cut between late April and September. The worst effects will be felt in Virginia and California, states with large numbers of civilian Defense Department workers.