Pentagon: Future furloughs likely if sequester remains

Though the Defense Department was able to reduce its civilian workers’ furloughs from 11 days to six, it can’t guarantee there won’t be more next year if automatic spending cuts remain in place.

“We’re still facing some major challenges,” a senior defense official said during a background briefing. “Faced with all of this uncertainty, we cannot be sure what will happen next year, but Secretary [Chuck] Hagel wants to assure our civilian employees that we’ll do everything possible to avoid imposing furloughs again next year.”

About 650,000 Pentagon civilians had been required to take 11 days of unpaid leave by Oct. 1 in order to save the department about $1.8 billion. Defense officials announced Tuesday that that they had found enough money in the budget to reduce the furloughs to six days.

Furloughs for most employees will end next week, or after 48 hours of unpaid leave. Teachers in the Pentagon school system are exempted from the furloughs.

Officials denied that they had exaggerated how painful the spending cuts would be.

“There’s a old saying in the budget world that time is the best budget analyst. If you wait longer, you’ll know more. And we do know more than we did three months ago,” a senior defense official said.

Under the automatic spending reduction measure called sequestration, the Pentagon is required to cut about $500 billion from its budget over the next decade.

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