(CNSNews.com) – The Defense Department announced Wednesday that furloughs for civilian personnel will begin in late April because of the looming sequestration.
“We feel we don’t have any choice but to impose furloughs, even though we would much prefer not to do it. We’re more than 20 percent short in O&M (operations and maintenance) but 7 months to go – much higher in some of the services, particularly the Army. Civilian personnel make up a substantial part of DoD O&M funding,” said Undersecretary of Defense and Chief Financial Officer Robert Hale.
“We can’t do reductions in force, especially at this point of year. They cost us money because of unused leave and severance pay, so furloughs are really the only way we have to quickly cut civilian personnel funding,” Hale said.
Hale said the department’s budget woes are exacerbated by the continuing resolution, which put too much money in investment and not enough in operation and maintenance, and the sequestration – across-the-board defense and non-defense budget cuts scheduled to go into effect March 1.
The 2011 debt ceiling deal said the sequester would go into effect in 2013 if Congress does not pass a deficit reduction package.
Congress was notified on Wednesday of the upcoming furloughs as well as civilian employees.
“That starts a 45-day clock ticking. Until that clock is run out, we cannot proceed with furloughs,” Hale said.
“We will ask the components now to identify specific exceptions, and we’ll review those for consistency. The components will begin required engagements with local unions and we’ll also … notify unions with national bargaining rights,” Hale said.
In mid-March, every employee who may be furloughed will receive notification, which starts a 30-day waiting period before the DoD can take action. In April, a decision will be sent to employees, and they will have a one-week period to appeal the decision to the merit system’s protection board. Furloughs won’t actually start until late April, even if sequestration is triggered on March 1.
“We certainly hope that in the interim, Congress will act to detrigger sequestration, or if they can’t accomplish that goal by March 1 as the president suggested, to take some short-term action while they’re dealing with the broader issue,” Hale said.
“Meanwhile, unfortunately, we’ll have to continue our planning with furloughs. Frankly, this is one of the most distasteful tasks I have faced in my four years in this job,” Hale added.
The only exceptions to the civilian furloughs are civilians deployed in combat zones, those “required to maintain safety of life or property,” foreign national employees, and employees paid with non-appropriated funds.
“It’s slightly embarrassing, but it’s true by law - Senate confirmed political employees are exempt by law,” Hale said.