DoD details furloughs under sequestration

Friday - 1/25/2013, 5:16pm EST

By ROBERT BURNS
National Security Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - A top Pentagon official says that if Congress does not come up with a way to avoid mandatory budget cuts by March 1, hundreds of thousands of Pentagon civilian employees will face furloughs and reduced paychecks by April.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told a small group of reporters Friday that the furloughed employees would lose one day of work per week for the remainder of the budget year, which ends in September.

The automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, would force a 9 percent cut to all defense programs.

"This is painful to us," Carter said

DoD eliminating 46,000 temporary civilian workers

The Pentagon has about 800,000 civilian employees; they have not yet been officially notified of furloughs. Carter said the furloughs would be expected to save $5 billion.

Carter said the Pentagon already is eliminating all 46,000 of its temporary civilian workers in anticipation of budget cuts. In earlier broad guidance issued to DoD components, Pentagon leaders told the services to consider cutting temp workers to save costs. The services were also granted the authority to freeze civilian hiring and cut maintenance spending.

The services must deliver their specific cost-cutting plans to DoD leaders by Feb. 1

Services freeze hiring, cut spending

In the wake of DoD's initial guidance, many of the services have responded by instituting new hiring restrictions. The Army immediately froze civilian hiring and mandated a reduction in base-operations support to about 70 percent of 2012 levels.

DoD's payroll agency, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, has also halted new hiring and reduced travel and overtime costs.

The sequestration cuts were initially scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of the year, but Congress postponed them until March 1, as part of a broad deal to avert the "fiscal cliff."

DoD officials say the threat of sequestration — coupled with the possibility of a lack of long-term funding through appropriations — has combined to create widespread budget uncertainty at the Pentagon.

Congressional appropriations expire March 27.

War efforts also affected

The Afghan war effort eventually would be harmed by across-the-board budget cuts, even as the Obama administration intends to shield the military's combat mission from the reductions, Carter said.

"There will be second-order effects on the war," he said. Deferred maintenance on weapons and other equipment, for example, will eventually erode the combat fitness of military units deploying to Afghanistan, he explained.

The U.S. has about 66,000 troops in Afghanistan, with an undetermined number of withdrawals expected this year and in 2014.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have repeatedly warned that the threatened defense cuts, amounting to about $50 billion this budget year, would hurt national security. Carter said he feared that the message has not been heard widely enough in Congress and across the country.

Carter also disclosed that he will remain on the job as deputy defense secretary in President Barack Obama's second term. He said Obama had called him after nominating Chuck Hagel to be his next defense secretary, asking Carter to remain.

"I agreed to do that, and I'm enthusiastic about doing that," he said, adding that he believes Hagel will be a good Pentagon chief.

Carter had been mentioned as a possible Obama choice for energy secretary.

(Federal News Radio's Jack Moore contributed to this report).

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Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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