Unless Congress acts to end sequestration, furloughs for Defense Department civilian employees can begin April 26, the department’s comptroller said March 11.
Robert F. Hale discussed the furlough planning process with a Pentagon audience. The comptroller also took questions sent in via Facebook and Twitter.
DOD is the only agency in the U.S. government that has to notify Congress when it wants to impose furloughs. Officials did that Feb. 20. “There is a 45-day waiting period after we submit that notification before furloughs can start,” Hale said.
The department asked commands to identify civilians who would be excepted from furloughs. That information is back in the Pentagon, Hale said, and officials are reviewing the recommendations. Their goal is to complete that review by March 15, he added.
After notifying Congress, the department began legally required bargaining with unions. About a dozen unions have national consultation rights, Hale said, and local commanders are in the process of notifying several local unions. “The unions, in this case, don’t have the right to bargain not to do the furloughs, he said. “They do have the right to bargain how they are implemented.”
If Congress does not act on sequestration, later this month the department will send letters to the excepted employees and propose furloughs for the rest, Hale said. There is a seven-day period for people to reply to their letters, followed by a 30-day waiting period.
“At the end of that period, we can send decisions of furloughs, and those furloughs can start,” he said.
When the formal notice is sent, civilian employees have the right to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board. “We’ve never done this,” Hale said, “and I hope we never do. … It’s not quite clear what this appeal right will be, but the appeal right is there.”
If Congress does not act, civilian employees will be furloughed without pay for 22 days — one day a week through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. For affected civilian employees, this amounts to a 20 percent cut in pay from the beginning of furloughs through the end of the fiscal year.