Defense civilian furloughs cut to six days

Civilian employees inside the Department of Defense are getting a reprieve from the furloughs in place since July 8.

In a statement released Tuesday, the DoD announced it was reducing furloughs from 11 days to six. Locally, more than 6,000 people have been affected by the furlough days – civilian employees at the Air Force Academy, Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Air  Force Station.

The furloughs were designed to cut the DoD’s budget in order to meet goals under sequestration, which went into effect in March. The defense department’s portion of the cuts amounted to unpaid days off for civilian workers, cuts in travel and in training and maintenance.

Civilians have already taken about four days of leave.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he was working to make $37 billion in spending cuts and thanks to efforts to identify savings, was able to cut the number of furlough days.

“When sequestration took effect on March 1, DoD faced shortfalls of more than $30 billion in its budget for day-to-day operating costs because of sequestration and problems with wartime funding,” he said in a statement. “At that point we faced the very real possibility of unpaid furloughs for civilian employees of up to 22 days.”

The DoD started hiring freezes, laying off temporary workers, cutting maintenance budgets and training opportunities.

“The Air Force stopped flying in many squadrons, the Navy kept ships in port, and the Army canceled training events,” he said. “These actions have seriously reduced military readiness.”

And still, they had shortfalls of $11 billion, but were able to reduce civilian furloughs from 22 days originally announced to 11 days.

In May the DoD asked to move money from acquisition accounts to day-to-day operating accounts. Congress agreed and the DoD is not only reducing furloughs, but also improving training and readiness throughout the armed forces, Hagel said.

“The Air Force has begun flying again in key squadrons, the Army has increased funding for organizational training at selected units, and the Navy has restarted some maintenance and ordered deployments that otherwise would not have happened.,’ he said. “While we are still depending on furlough savings, we will be able to make up our budgetary shortfall in this fiscal year with fewer furlough days than initially announced.”

But it’s not over, Hagel warns. Furloughs could return as the Department of Defense still faces annual cuts of $52 billion next year, starting Oct. 1.

“Facing this uncertainty, I cannot be sure what will happen next year, but I want to assure our civilian employees that we will do everything possible to avoid more furloughs,” he said.