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Hale defends furloughs for depot workers

Jul. 8, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
In a letter to Congress, DoD Comptroller Robert Hale said 'furloughs of civilians at working capital fund activities are legal and result in personnel cost savings.'
In a letter to Congress, DoD Comptroller Robert Hale said 'furloughs of civilians at working capital fund activities are legal and result in personnel cost savings.' (Thomas Brown/Staff)

A top Defense Department official is defending the decision to include civilian employees paid through “working capital funds” in mass furloughs that begin this week.

“Furloughs of civilians at working capital fund activities are legal and result in personnel cost savings,” DoD Comptroller Robert Hale told members of Congress in a Friday letter. Those furloughs will generate more than $500 million in savings that give the Pentagon and military services more flexibility in dealing with a total of $37 billion in sequester-related budget cuts this fiscal year, Hale said.

Working capital fund installations and organizations rely on revenue from the sale of goods and services to other parts of the government, instead of from direct congressional appropriations, to fund their budgets. According to the latest DoD figures provided to Congress, there are almost 180,000 employees in that category working at military maintenance depots, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and other Defense components.

Late last month, a bipartisan group of 31 House members had written Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, saying there appeared to be “substantial legal and economic questions” around the planned furloughs of working capital fund employees. In particular, the lawmakers cited a provision in federal law that bars DoD from managing that workforce with any particular end-strength in mind.

In his reply on Hagel’s behalf, however, Hale said that law allows the Pentagon to manage employees based on workload and available annual funding. This year’s $37 billon sequester cut “is a major cause of these furloughs,” Hale said, and thus satisfies the law’s requirements.

Starting this week, a total of about 650,000 DoD civilians are set to be furloughed for up to 11 days by the end of the fiscal year in September. The department “does not want to furlough any of its valued civilian employees but must do so to help meet these budgetary shortfalls,” Hale said as he again urged lawmakers to approve a ‘balanced” deficit reduction plan and end the sequester.

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