WASHINGTON - U.S. Department of Defense civilian employees are being warned to prepare for the beginning of a cycle of furloughs that will take away a significant portion of their income after the Fourth of July holiday.
"What furloughs will do to our agency is huge. It will clearly affect the morale of our civilian workforce because they will lose 20 percent of their pay if they are furloughed one day a week," Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright tells WTOP. "The furlough decision was an extremely hard decision for the department to make, and it wasn't made lightly, because our civilian workforce is the glue that holds us together."
Approximately 767,000 DOD civilians work in what is referred to as appropriated fund positions. Around 650,000, or 85 percent, of them are at risk of receiving furlough notices.
The decision, according to Wright and statements from the Pentagon, was made at the highest levels by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other senior leaders after exhaustive exploration of all options to achieve the objectives mandated by sequestration with the least impact to the DOD.
Hagel issued a memo on May 14 ordering defense managers to prepare to furlough a majority of DOD civilians for up to 11 days as a result of sequestration: "DOD's budget for FY 2013 was reduced by $37 billion, including $20 billion in the operation and maintenance (O&M) accounts that pay many civilian workers."
"We will begin furloughs on July 8 at the rate of 1 furlough day per week for most personnel," said Hagel. "For now, we plan to continue furloughs through the end of FY 2013."
Looking to reduce the impact of furloughs, Hagel said in the memo, "If our budgetary situation permits us to end furloughs early, I would strongly prefer to do so. That is a decision I will make later in the year."
In addition to affecting workforce morale, Wright says the furloughs will have a monumental impact on the DOD's workflow.
"The civilians provide a very well-thought-out, very needed service, whether it's performing tank maintenance, training some of our military members, working in our hospitals or working in an administrative shop," she says.
Even though service members are not being furloughed, they will not have tasks done in the same timely manner as before the furlough, Wright says. She also warns that many of the people who will be furloughed will receive the notices after the July 8 start date for furloughs.
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