The Pentagon slashed the budget-related furloughs for civilian employees from 11 days to six days today, a move that helps the department “buy back some readiness,” according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.
“When I announced my decision on May 14 to impose furloughs of up to 11 days on civilian employees to help close the budget gap caused by sequestration, I also said we would do everything possible to find the money to reduce furlough days for our people,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a memo to employees. “With the end of the fiscal year next month, managers across the DoD are making final decisions necessary to ensure we make the $37 billion spending cuts mandated by sequestration, while also doing everything possible to limit damage to military readiness and our workforce.”
Hagel noted that the original plan was for civilian furloughs of up to 22 days when sequestration took effect March 1 because the department faced shortfalls of more than $30 billion.
“As early as January, DoD leaders began making painful and far reaching changes to close this shortfall: civilian hiring freezes, layoffs of temporary workers, significant cuts in facilities maintenance, and more. We also sharply cut training and maintenance. The Air Force stopped flying in many squadrons, the Navy kept ships in port, and the Army cancelled training events. These actions have seriously reduced military readiness,” he wrote in the memo.
That still left a shortfall of $11 billion by early May, when the 11-day furloughs were announced.
“Where necessary, we have taken aggressive action to transfer funds among services and agencies. And the furloughs have saved us money,” Hagel continued.
“As a result of these management initiatives, reduced costs, and reprogramming from Congress, we have determined that we can make some improvements in training and readiness and still meet the sequestration cuts. 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. 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,” he added.
The secretary noted that the situation of the workforce next year is uncertain if sequestration stands, as an additional $52 billion will have to be cut from the Defense Department for FY 2014 starting Oct. 1.
“I want to assure our civilian employees that we will do everything possible to avoid more furloughs,” Hagel said.
“When sequestration took effect on March 1st, I said we would lead through it and I’m encouraged to see several of you stay in touch with me and your leaders,” Dempsey said on his Facebook page. “There’s still work to be done. We’ll continue to do all we can to gain budget certainty, time, and flexibility. Our force and our nation demand no less.”
A chunk of the current savings found came from less than expected costs of transporting equipment out of Afghanistan.
A senior defense official at the Pentagon today likened the reshuffling of funds to “pouring water and milk in the glass at some time and when it overflows blaming the milk. I mean, I can’t pick one thing.”
“There were a whole series of actions we took, finding reduced costs. Reprogramming was very important. And we are also able to shift around some other funding from the Navy, some lower priority Navy programs into the Army. So it’s a bunch of different things,” the official said. “And it wasn’t just furlough days. We brought back some training.”
Reporters were told that it will take the Air Force “months” to catch up from a three-month stand down.
The official brushed off suggestions that the Pentagon would be seen as crying wolf over the severity of the sequestration cuts.