Pentagon to delay furlough notices for two weeks

Thursday - 3/21/2013, 4:06pm EDT

The Defense Department is reassessing its plan to furlough the majority of its 780,000-member civilian workforce for the remainder of 2013, Pentagon officials said Thursday.

The decision is a result of Congress's passage of a 2013 funding bill, which averts a government shutdown and funds federal agencies for the remainder of 2013.

The omnibus spending package provides DoD and a handful of other departments with full-year appropriations bills while leaving much of the rest of the federal government under a 2012 continuing resolution for the remainder of the year. The House voted on and passed the legislation earlier Thursday, sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

"The Department has decided to delay the issuance of civilian employee furlough notices for approximately two weeks," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in a statement. "This delay will allow the department to carefully analyze the impact of pending continuing resolution legislation on the department's resources. We have not made any decisions on whether or not the total number of planned furlough days for fiscal year 2013 will change as a result of this delay. We believe the delay is a responsible step to take in order to assure our civilian employees that we do not take lightly the prospect of furloughs and the resulting decrease in employee pay."

DoD's original plan for the civilian furlough process called for employees to begin receiving furlough proposals on Thursday, which would have begun a 30-day waiting period before actual furloughs could begin.

Furloughs would have applied to the vast majority of the workforce, and would have required affected employees to take 22 days off without pay for the remainder of the fiscal year.

None of the previously-planned furlough proposals were sent to civilian workers, said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

After a reassessment of the 2013 budget picture, DoD plans to revise its furlough plan through a defense management advisory group (DMAG) within the next two weeks. The department now intends to begin issuing the proposal letters to its workforce around Apr. 5, according to a memo distributed to Defense managers by Acting Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright and DoD Comptroller Robert Hale.

"The legislation could have some impact on furlough days, but no decisions have been reached," the under secretaries wrote in the memo obtained by Federal News Radio. "The number of furlough days at this point remains up to 22."

The passage of a full-year appropriations bill will help ease what has so far been an extremely challenging budget year for DoD, but officials have said previously that the enactment of a 2013 budget would solve only one of three large problems for the operation and maintenance accounts, which fund civilian salaries and myriad other day-to-day department expenses.

While the legislation apportions funding roughly in the areas DoD would like for 2013 — solving a mismatch between its O&M and acquisition budgets — it leaves in place the across-the-board spending cuts under sequestration. And officials have said repeatedly that more O&M dollars will need to be shifted overseas in order to cover unexpected costs in Afghanistan, leaving stateside operations like training and equipment maintenance underfunded.

Last week, the Pentagon finished reviewing a list of civilian positions that would be shielded from furloughs, and those exemption decisions would not be affected by the new legislation, DoD officials said. The criteria will likely remain exactly the same: civilians must be actively serving in a combat zone or be working in a role that is essential to protecting life or safety on a given day in order to be spared from furloughs.

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