Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has rebuffed calls to give the military services the flexibility to reduce or eliminate furloughs for civilian workers on their own. (Jim Watson / AFP)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has rebuffed calls to give the military services the flexibility to reduce or eliminate furloughs for civilian workers on their own.
In managing across-the-board spending cuts, “we will strive for consistency and fairness across the department,” Hagel said in an April 26 letter to members of Congress.
Hagel was responding to a bipartisan plea from 126 members of Congress last week urging him to give the services, as well as other Defense Department agencies, the discretion to handle furloughs as they deem best.
Pentagon leaders instead have taken a uniform approach in spreading the pain of sequester-related reductions among their almost 800,000 civilian employees. After first planning on up to 22 furlough days by the end of September, Hagel last month pared that number to 14 days following passage of the latest congressional spending bill. “We are examining every option for responsible cuts in order to minimize or possibly eliminate the necessity of furloughs,” Hagel said in his letter, adding that he will make a decision “soon” on how much unpaid time off will be required.
DoD still has to cut about $40 billion from its budget this year, Hagel said, “and there is no way to do that without damage to our operations, our people and our institution.”
In last week’s letter, lawmakers said that DoD’s furlough strategy is punishing branches that have already downsized their civilian staffs in response to earlier instructions “while appearing to reward departments and organizations that did not shed workforce.”
In a response to Hagel on Tuesday, American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox said individual components should not have to impose the same number of furlough days if they can find other ways to cut or raise revenue. “That’s not a radical proposition,” Cox said. “That’s competent leadership.”