Pentagon Warns of Widespread Pay Cuts and Furloughs if Automatic Budget Cuts Are Not Averted

Most of the Pentagon's civilian employees will face a furlough in the coming months if the planned across-the-board budget cuts come to pass on March 1, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned Congress on Wednesday.

Pictured: Members of the U.S. military retire its ceremonial flags signifying the end of their presence in Iraq at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center in Baghdad December 15, 2011
About 750,000 civilians would experience pay cuts of about 20 percent between late April and September, Pentagon officials warned, if the department is required to cut $46 billion over the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year. The furloughs could come in the form of a four-day workweek.

"We feel we don't have any choice than to impose furloughs," Robert Hale, the department's chief financial officer, said during a briefing. "We can't do reductions in force."

In addition to the potential effect of the automatic, across-the-board cuts, known as "sequestration," Pentagon officials are also concerned about cuts that would be required if Congress fails to replace a stopgap spending measure, called the continuing resolution, with a bill that offers more long-term certainty. In describing the potential consequences of both outcomes, Pentagon officials appeared to be walking a line between scaring lawmakers into action and hurting military morale.

"The effects of sequestration and the continuing resolution on our military personnel will be devastating, but on our civilians, it will be catastrophic," said Jessica Wright, the undersecretary for personnel and readiness. Ms. Wright added, "Our guiding principle throughout this process will be to lessen the impacts wherever we can."

The furloughs would not apply to those in uniform, and for civilians, there would be some exceptions, including for those deployed in combat zones, those "required to maintain safety of life or property" (like some police officers on military bases), foreign nationals and political appointees exempt by law. More than 80 percent of the Pentagon's civilian employees work outside the Washington area, and California and Virginia would probably be hardest hit, officials said.

Civilians play a wide variety of roles in the military, including repairing tanks and equipment, teaching in military schools and working in suicide prevention centers. Forty percent of the Defense Department's medical providers are civilians.

The furloughs would provide only 10 percent of the savings the Pentagon would need, about $4 billion to $5 billion. Among a host of other measures would be cuts in training that could leave two-thirds of Army combat brigade teams not deployed in Afghanistan at "unacceptable levels of readiness" by the end of the year, Mr. Hale said.

SOURCE: SARAH WHEATON
The New York Times
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