House NDAA amendment preemptively blocks some DoD furloughs

Tuesday - 5/20/2014, 4:00pm EDT

A proposed amendment to the House version of the annual bill setting policy for the Defense Department would preemptively protect DoD employees paid through working-capital funds from potential furloughs.

The measure, which was introduced Monday by Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), is being considered by the House Rules Committee Tuesday. The House is expected to take up the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act as early as this week.

"Furloughing workers funded through capital funds does not-and cannot-save the government money," Kilmer said in a statement. "Sending these workers home without pay just means needlessly delaying projects that have already been funded. I have continually raised concerns about the legal justification the department has used when furloughing these workers."

About 170,000 DoD employees work at agencies funded through working-capital funds, such as the Defense Logistics Agency and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. These agencies do not receive direct congressional appropriations. Instead their annual budgets are determined through through fees collected from their customers — including other agencies — for the services they perform.

Nevertheless, last year around this time, more than 650,000 DoD employees — including working-capital fund employees — were furloughed for a total of six days as a result of the across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration.

Last summer, Defense officials said they had the legal authority to furlough employees at working-capital fund agencies. Later, chief of Staff for the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Pat Tamburrino told Federal News Radio that DoD decided to furlough these employees in part to ensure the unpaid days off were implemented across DoD "in an equitable and consistent manner."

Cole, the bill's co-sponsor, added a similar measure to last year's version of the Defense policy bill.

The services provided by working-capital fund employees "are already fully funded apart from the appropriations process," Cole said in a statement. "In fact, imposing furloughs actually hurts our economic recovery and costs the taxpayers more through delayed production, overhead increases and the need for overtime or transfer of workload to more expensive sources of work. This amendment will prevent that from happening and protect our valuable personnel."

Widespread furloughs have become less of a threat for DoD — and other agencies — since Congress agreed on a two-year budget framework late last year.

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