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Workers prepare budgets because Congress won’t

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Civilian workers in the Defense Department are bracing themselves for layoffs and furloughs that could cost them a chunk of their paychecks with the automatic spending cuts set to begin March 1.

More than a dozen employees in the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce Program in Afghanistan who had been approved for extended tours of duty there now are being told to come home, a member of the program told The Washington Times.

"Now I'm hanging in the breeze because Congress couldn't get its act together to pass a budget," the program member said from Afghanistan.

In addition, the continuing resolution under which the Pentagon is operating — limiting spending to fiscal 2012 levels — has generated layoffs and profit losses among defense contractors, even as the automatic budget reductions called sequestration promise less funding for programs and personnel.

The management and technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., which supplies contract workers to the Defense Department, laid off 124 employees in January.

What's more, Booz Allen's third-quarter revenue for fiscal 2012 decreased to $1.39 billion from $1.44 billion the previous year, company officials said in a conference call Wednesday.

"We're just now starting to see conversation around what costs would be reduced if we go into sequestration," Sam Strickland, executive vice president and chief financial officer, said during the call.

"So we still haven't yet been able to identify how much that would impact us, if at all. Now, you have to assume that if overall spending goes down, that it would have some impact on us. But, when we talk about our uncertainty, that's certainly one of them," Mr. Strickland said.

As many as 800,000 civilians employed by the Defense Department could be affected by sequestration.

Last week, Defense Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter said that as many as 46,000 temporary civilian workers could be laid off as early as mid-February.

On Jan. 10, Mr. Carter authorized each of the armed services to freeze civilian hiring, terminate temporary hires and notify contract employees that their contracts would not be renewed, except for those with mission-critical jobs.

Mission-critical jobs are those "essential for the preservation of life or property," a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

"No more Starbucks, no more eating out, no more going out," said one civilian Pentagon worker who asked not to be identified. "And thank goodness I don't have kids -- what about those with families?"

Full-time Pentagon civilians would not be subject to layoffs, but could face furloughs — unpaid time off — of up to 30 consecutive calendar days or of one day per week for 22 weeks.

Under sequestration, the Pentagon would need to cut $45 billion from its budget before Sept. 30, so the 22-day furloughs would need to begin no later than May, leaving workers with three months to plan for pay cuts.

Furloughs would not occur on the same day each week and likely would be staggered to avoid office shutdowns, the Pentagon spokeswoman said, adding that such planning is in the preliminary stages.

Senate-confirmed political appointees would not be subject to furlough, she said.

The effects of furloughs would be felt sharply among the military's colleges and schools because many of their instructors are civilians.

For example, 71 percent of the approximately 800 personnel at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington are civilians, according to a 2011 university report. Furloughs would disrupt classes for more than 1,800 officers and civilians at various campuses.

The National Defense University, like other defense programs, is planning for sequestration, spokesman Stephen Pietropaoli said.

"We are doing all that we can to husband the resources we have and scrutinize every expenditure," Mr. Pietropaoli said. "We are trying to do only things that are mission-critical right now.

"If there's a way to do video teleconferencing, we are going to be doing that instead of going [to conferences]," he said, adding that it is important for instructors to meet with other academics.

"We are loath to stop doing things, but you have to be very circumspect in the current environment. We're all standing by for guidance."

Some Pentagon programs already have implemented work travel bans and canceled conferences, said a civilian Pentagon employee who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal.

"We are just trying to do our jobs, essential to the defense of our nation," the employee said. "It begs the question: What types of paycheck cuts will [members of Congress] face as a result of not doing their job?"

Each armed service has been directed to submit its short-term plans for sequestration to Mr. Carter on Friday and their long-term plans by Feb. 8, including how many temporary employees they plan to lay off, how many federal employees they would furlough and for how long.

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