WASHINGTON — Despite media reports that say Defense Department civilians may face up to five fewer furlough days, “no decisions have been made at this time,” a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.
More than 640,000 civilian employees are being furloughed one day a week for 11 weeks, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said. These unpaid days are in response to the Budget Control Act of 2011, which mandated significant cuts in the fiscal 2013 defense budget.
The furloughs began July 8. Most employees now have taken four unpaid days, or will have by the end of the week. Christensen said DOD leaders did not “take these actions lightly, or in a matter-of-fact fashion.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reluctantly made the decision to furlough the civilian workforce, which will save around $2 billion this fiscal year. “He recognizes the significant hardship this places on DOD civilians and their families,” Christensen said.
The guiding principal behind the furlough “was the preservation of the readiness of the force to accomplish the department’s mission to ensure our national security,” the commander said. The DOD applied furloughs as consistently as possible across the department, he said.
When Hagel announced at a May 14 town hall meeting for civilian employees that officials had been able to reduce the originally expected number of furlough days from 22 to 11, he promised a continued effort to reduce the number further, but he emphasized that he could not promise such an outcome.
“I won’t promise that,” he said. “You deserve fair, honest, direct conversation about this, and I’m not going to be cute with you at all. This is where we are. We’ll continue to look at it, (and) we’ll continue to do everything we can.”