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Viewpoint: A plan to end furloughs of DoD's civilian employees

Aug. 4, 2013 - 11:19AM   |  
By REP. DOUG LAMBORN   |   Comments

Across the country and around the world, the men and women of our military rely on civilian employees in countless ways to help them accomplish their missions and stay safe. These civilian employees may be doctors at military hospitals, or child care providers for service members, or intelligence analysts supporting special operations teams fighting terrorists.

These civilian employees are vital to keeping our nation safe and secure.

Unfortunately, sequestration has resulted in the furloughing of approximately 650,000 Defense Department civilian employees.

These employees are losing 20 percent of their paychecks for 11 weeks.

Not only will this create a significant financial hardship, but it also sends a demoralizing message to the men and women working for DoD. In the long run, these furloughs will make it harder to recruit and retain the best civilian employees possible.

These men and women are patriots who work hard to keep our nation secure and support our military in missions at home and abroad, night and day, 365 days a year. Unfortunately, I have reason to believe these furloughs have been implemented in a way designed to achieve the most political pain.

In March, news reports indicated that some DoD agencies had found ways to avoid employee furloughs even in the face of sequestration.

I immediately sent a letter to the Pentagon asking Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel why he would require parts of the Department of Defense to implement furloughs even if they were not required to do so for budgetary reasons.

Later this spring, we learned that the whole Department of the Navy had found a way to avoid civilian furloughs. I responded by getting 26 of my House colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, to join me in sending another letter to Hagel opposing the decision to impose civilian furloughs even on departments and agencies that did not need them to save money.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration decided that all DoD employees would be furloughed no matter what. Instead of allowing for flexibility to minimize the pain of furloughs, the Obama administration decided to impose the pain across the board. This appears to have been done to maximize the political pain of sequestration across the nation, similar to the situation with Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers.

I have opposed every step that has led to these furloughs. I voted against the Budget Control Act two years ago, which brought almost $1 trillion in cuts down on the Defense budget alone. I have consistently worked to replace sequestration with savings in other reasonable areas. Unfortunately, the fact remains that DoD civilians in my district and across the country are losing 20 percent of their pay for almost one-quarter of the year, hurting their families, the economy and national security.

Last week, I took the next logical step.

I offered a simple amendment that would prohibit the Department of Defense from implementing civilian furloughs in fiscal 2014. A bipartisan group of congressmen joined my effort. I am proud to report that my amendment passed the House of Representatives unanimously and is now waiting for action in the Senate.

My amendment does not solve the larger problem of draconian cuts to our military, but we need to prevent our civilian Defense employees from being used irresponsibly as political pawns. I normally want the Pentagon to have as much flexibility in the budget as possible. But the use of civilian furloughs is tainted with politics and should not remain on the table.

These women and men are the glue that holds our military together and keeps our nation safe.

For the sake of our national security, and for the sake of the patriots who work as civilian DoD employees, I hope that the Senate will quickly pass my amendment and send it to the White House.

We need to put a stop to these unnecessarily painful and politically motivated furloughs.

Rep. Doug Lamborn represents Colorado’s 5th Congressional District, which includes Fort Carson, the Air Force Academy, Peterson Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain, and Schriever Air Force Base. Lamborn serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

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