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Civilian workers first in line for budget cuts

Jan. 23, 2013 - 10:47AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 23, 2013 - 10:47AM  |  
Jamie Morin, acting undersecretary of the Air Force, speaks at an Air Force Association breakfast in Arlington, Va., Jan. 15. A memo written by Morin and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer said that civilian furloughs of up to 30 calender days are possible.
Jamie Morin, acting undersecretary of the Air Force, speaks at an Air Force Association breakfast in Arlington, Va., Jan. 15. A memo written by Morin and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer said that civilian furloughs of up to 30 calender days are possible. (Michael J. Pausic / Air Force)
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Civilian employees will be among the first to feel the belt-tightening as the Defense Department prepares for the likelihood of severe budget reductions this year.

The Air Force, Army and Navy are freezing civilian hiring, laying off temporary workers and considering furloughs for hundreds of thousands of civilian employees, according to memos from leaders of all three branches of the service.

"Civilian pay makes up a large share of our operating budget and we have been directed to consider the possibility of civilian furloughs up to 30 calendar days or 22 discontinuous workdays," wrote Gen. Larry Spencer, the Air Force's vice chief of staff, and Jamie Morin, the service's acting under secretary, in a the Jan. 14 memo to leaders of all major commands.

In a similar memo, Rear Adm. J.P. Mulloy, deputy assistant secretary for budget, told Navy commanders the furloughs, if carried out, would occur one day per week beginning the week of April 16 and lasting through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

"If implemented, civilian furloughs will be centrally managed and will be a governmentwide effort with limited exceptions," Mulloy wrote in the Jan. 14 memo.

The Defense Logistics Agency formally notified its union Jan. 16 that unpaid furloughs of up to 22 days for virtually all civilian staff may be needed between April and the end of the fiscal year.

The wave of memos comes less than a week after Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the department leaders Jan. 10 to plan for the possibility of a yearlong continuing resolution that would generally leave 2013 spending frozen at last year's levels, as well as for across-the-board budget cuts set to take effect at the beginning of March assuming that Congress and the Obama administration don't strike a deal to head them off. The cuts, formally known as sequestration, would take about 9 percent out of most Defense Department accounts by the end of the fiscal year in September, according to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a private think tank on defense issues. Military personnel would be exempted.

"If we did not act now, the scale of reductions required should sequestration be triggered on March 1 or the department were left under a yearlong continuing resolution would be even more devastating for readiness," Spencer and Morin said.

Should sequestration occur, however, "immediate actions with serious negative impacts to core readiness programs will be required," the memo said.

As of September, the Air Force had 171,000 civilian employees, the about Army 277,000 and the Navy almost 200,000, according to the most recent Office of Personnel Management data.

At DLA, with a civilian workforce of more than 25,000, furloughs "may be necessary" for all employees except those deployed "in support of contingency operations in the [Central Command] area of responsibility," Brad Bunn, the agency's human resources director, wrote in a Jan. 16 letter to the president of the American Federation of Government Employees council that represents many workers there. DLA also is considering other measures "to mitigate harmful effects to current DLA employees" resulting from budget uncertainties, Bunn added without elaborating.

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