Pentagon to Cut Civilian Furloughs and Increase Number of Exempt Workers

Mike O'Brien

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to announce on Tuesday afternoon that the Pentagon will cut the number of furlough days from 14 to 11 for about 800,000 civilian employees.

The original projection for unpaid leave was 22 days but Mr. Hagel was able to trim that back last month.

Mr. Hagel is also expected to expand the pool of exempt workers. Tens of thousands of workers at depots and shipyards may now avoid furloughs in order to keep production lines going and prevent backlogs in the repairs of ships and combat vehicles.

Defense officials have for weeks been discussing how to allocate the $7.5 billion-plus it now has the authority to transfer from lower priority areas to more vital operations.

While some military insiders sought to eliminate furloughs altogether, others said resources should be poured into flight and combat training and the push to bring tons of equipment out of Afghanistan.

Aside from the $7.5 billion that was approved by Congress, the Defense Department says it has been able to identify at least another $1 billion that can be moved in smaller increments to high priority projects.

The Air Force is keen to restart training flights for units that were grounded due to budget cuts, and the Army wants to move forward with combat training that has so far been delayed for some units.

It is thought the cost of getting trucks and all the heavy equipment out of Afghanistan will be between $5 billion and $7 billion. There has been no word so far whether the equipment will end up or whether it will be destroyed to ensure that the technologies involved don’t fall into the wrong hands.

The Navy has argued that furloughing 30,000 shipyard workers would end up costing more than the salary cuts would save. It would extend ship maintenance time, create a backlog and delay deployments.