Furlough choices made; notifications to go out within days

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An aerial view of the Pentagon, taken from a Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter on July 8, 2011. (Tia Dufour/USMC)
From Stripes.com
An aerial view of the Pentagon, taken from a Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter on July 8, 2011. (Tia Dufour/USMC)

Furlough choices made; notifications to go out within days

by: Chris Carroll | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: March 20, 2013

WASHINGTON — Pentagon leaders have decided who will be furloughed and who will remain on the job, although they hadn’t shared that information as of early Tuesday.

But starting late this week, officials say, most of the Defense Department’s nearly 800,000 civilian employees will begin getting furlough proposal notices — letters telling them they are likely to lose about a month’s pay this year.

“I expect those notices to go out on Friday,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins.

The final deliveries should be complete by next Tuesday, and after a 30-day waiting period mandated by federal law, furloughs can begin on April 26.

Civilian employees will work shortened weeks for 22 weeks through September, when fiscal 2013 ends. Beyond smaller paychecks, contributions to employee retirement accounts will fall and leave time will accumulate more slowly.

Furlough letters will generally be hand-delivered to employees, Pentagon officials say. In certain cases — for employees on TDY or on leave, for instance — the notifications could come via email.

The notices will inform employees they have one week to appeal the furlough proposal — standard procedure for federal employees who are being furloughed. Once the week is past, a final notice of furlough will be sent.

“Because this is an across-the-board cut, I don’t see a lot of flexibility” for employees seeking to overturn furlough determinations through appeals, Robbins said. “It would be one thing if we were furloughing people based on seniority or other factors … but we’re not basing it on that.”

Instead, DOD Comptroller Robert Hale said early this month, all but a few categories of workers are in line for furlough. Exempt will be those working in combat zones, a small number of top defense officials who were confirmed by the Senate, nonappropriated funds employees, and those “who are required to maintain safety of life or property.” But even some firefighters, medical personnel and other emergency workers will be furloughed as agencies slim down to minimum staffing to save money.

Furloughs could save up to $5 billion dollars, officials say. That’s around 10 percent of the $46 billion budget cut the Pentagon experienced on March 1, when automatic budget cuts known as “sequestration” took effect.

The cuts, which total about $500 billion over a decade, were mandated by federal law if an ideologically deadlocked Congress could not agree to a deficit-cutting plan.

Under the Pentagon’s furlough plan, the service branches had until March 1 to submit lists of employees crucial to keep on the job throughout the furlough period. The Pentagon set for itself a March 15 deadline to judge the services’ requests. By order of President Barack Obama, no military members will be furloughed.

Officials admit that March 15 passed with some questions remaining about who would be furloughed. But the decisions have now been made, and officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense will soon inform the service branches so notices can go out beginning Friday.

Carroll.Chris@stripes.com
Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_
 

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