WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcement that most Defense Department civilian employees will experience up to 11 furlough days from early July through September, senior defense officials emphasized their goal to reduce adverse effects on the workforce and the mission.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters on background, two senior defense officials discussed details of the furlough, exemptions and stressed their intent to lessen its effects.
One official said it appears that about 15 percent — 120,000 of the department’s roughly 800,000 civilian employees — will be exempt from the furlough and that number could rise once issues involving intelligence personnel are resolved.
While the furloughs will save the Defense Department $1.8 billion, “it’s not something that we wanted to do,” the official said.
Part of the department’s plan to reduce the furlough’s effects is to ask Congress to allow shifting funds from one account to another, the official said.
The services previously had taken steps in an attempt to avoid furlough, the official noted, with the Air Force stopping flights for 12 combat-coded squadrons and the Army canceling most of its combat training rotations.
While all the services will experience furloughs, the official said, the Navy is getting a critical exemption for its civilian employees that work in shipyards and do nuclear maintenance, citing long periods required for maintenance and very little ability to catch up with maintenance on submarines and carriers.
The official acknowledged furloughs will reduce efficiency across the department.
“These people aren’t doing PowerPoint slides in the Pentagon,” the official said. “They are mostly outside of the Pentagon. They fix our ships, our tanks and our planes. They staff our hospitals. They’re teachers in our schools. I think we are going to seriously adversely affect the productivity in almost all support areas of the Department of Defense.”
The furloughs will also affect the Department of Defense Education Activity, which operates schools for military children living overseas and at some U.S. installations, the second senior official told reporters.
“Our commitment to our service men and women who have children in these schools is that they will get an accredited school year,” the official said. Summer school will be held, the official added and then the next school year will begin with five furlough days. The official noted that DODEA is in a special category because of the need to have an accredited school year.
Despite efforts to mitigate the impact of furloughs, the official said, there will still be an unavoidable effect.
“I think that the anticipated impact will clearly be the morale of our employees,” the official said. “I can tell you that we value every single civilian that works in the Department of Defense and 86 percent of them work outside of the national capital region. They all add value to the mission that we do as a total force and they’re clearly part of that total force.”
The loss of pay civilian employees will face undoubtedly will affect them financially and in terms of their morale, the official said.
“I believe that they will continue to perform in an admirable manner,” the official added, “but I am sure that there will be some morale impact.”
Both senior defense officials emphasized the Defense Department’s reluctance to implement furloughs, but said the decision ultimately was made after exhausting all other options.
“This is one of the most distasteful tasks I’ve had in more than 30 years of government service,” the first official said. “We depend on these people to do all of the things I mentioned before. I find it very tasteless.”
“It’s a very painful process,” the second official said. “The decision wasn’t made lightly. It was made with a lot of pain and anguish.”