Pentagon awash in pink slips, preparing 800,000 civilian furloughs
The Defense Department on Wednesday officially notified Congress that it plans to begin furloughing its 800,000 civilian employees across the country if automatic spending cuts begin March 1, estimating the states would lose a total of $4.86 billion in workers’ wages this year.
According to Pentagon estimates, among the hardest-hit states would be Virginia, which would have about 88,000 affected workers and salary losses of $660.9 million; California, with 62,600 workers and $419.7 million in lost wages; and Maryland, with 45,700 workers and $359.3 million in lost earnings.
“This is not a Beltway phenomenon,” Jessica L. Wright, the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told reporters at the Pentagon. “More than 80 percent of our civilians work outside of the D.C. metro area. They live and work in every state of the union.”
Under the furlough plan, civilian workers would be forced to take one day of unpaid leave each week for 22 weeks from late April through September, costing them about 20 percent of their pay during that time, Pentagon officials said.
In a written message, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told civilian workers that they “will be provided at least 30 days’ notice prior to executing a furlough and your benefits will be protected to the maximum extent possible.”
He added that the Pentagon “also will work to ensure that furloughs are executed in a consistent and appropriate manner.”
Mr. Panetta noted that the department has been funded by a continuing resolution that has limited spending to 2012 levels and said the effects of sequestration may be felt more intensely because of it.
“In the event of sequestration, we will do everything we can to be able to continue to perform our core mission of providing for the security of the United States, but there is no mistaking that the rigid nature of the cuts forced upon this department, and their scale, will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force,” said Mr. Panetta, who flew Wednesday to Brussels to attend a NATO meeting.
Adding his voice to the budget debate Wednesday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the fiscal impasse is a serious threat to the country’s standing in the world.
“Think about it: It is hard to tell the leadership of any number of countries that they have to resolve their economic issues if we don’t resolve our own,” Mr. Kerry said at the University of Virginia.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, put the blame for the budget impasse on President Obama, saying with Mr. Panetta’s assessment that automatic spending cuts would devastate the military.
“The furloughs contemplated by this notice will do real harm to our national security,” said Mr. Panetta, who is expected to leave office shortly. “Overall, sequestration will put us on a path toward a hollow force and inflict serious damage on our national security.”
“These men and women, many of whom have dedicated their careers to their country, deserve better than to be treated as pawns in a game of political brinkmanship,” Mr. McKeon said. “Unfortunately, while my colleagues and I were sounding the alarm and finding solutions, the commander in chief was persistently unengaged, refusing to allow the Pentagon to plan for these cuts.”
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.