Leaders confront challenge of possible DoD furloughs

Rear Adm. Frank Ponds, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, speaks about furloughs during an all-hands meeting held at Pearl Harbor Memorial Chapel, Feb. 21. U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Nardel Gervacio

Rear Adm. Frank Ponds, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, speaks about furloughs during an all-hands meeting held at Pearl Harbor Memorial Chapel, Feb. 21. U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Nardel Gervacio

Brandon Bosworth

Staff Writer

On Feb. 20, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta notified Congress that the Department of Defense (DOD) is prepared to implement furloughs for civilian personnel in response to the threat of sequestration.

If Congress cannot reach a budget deal before March 1, across-the-board spending cuts will kick in and the Pentagon will be forced to furlough nearly 800,000 civilian Defense Department employees.

The Pentagon is required to notify Congress at least 45 days before furloughing employees. Furloughed employees would be forced to take one day of unpaid leave per week, beginning in the last week of April and going through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said that civilian employees could lose 20 percent of their normal income through September.

In a memo to Defense Department employees, Panetta addressed the difficult times ahead.

“I can assure you that, if we have to implement furloughs, all affected employees will be provided at least 30 days’ notice prior to executing a furlough, and your benefits will be protected to the maximum extent possible,” Panetta wrote.

In his memo, Panetta also vowed to continue working with Congress to avoid sequestration.

Jessica L. Wright, the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, expressed concern that the effect of sequestration on civilian employees could be “catastrophic.”

“Everything is going to be affected, should sequestration go in effect,” she said. “That’s a guarantee. I think that everybody will be impacted by this action. And I think it’s incumbent upon us to try to ease that where we can.”

Under Secretary of Defense and Chief Financial Officer Robert F. Hale stressed that active duty personnel would be affected by the cuts as well.

“Most Air Force units that aren’t deployed would be at below acceptable readiness levels by the end of the year,” he told Congress. “You’d see cutbacks in Navy and Marine Corps readiness and deployments.”

Other consequences of sequestration include possible changes to hours at exchanges and commissaries, and family programs could be reduced or cut

The spending cuts will affect military health care, as some 40 percent of the personnel working in the system are civilians.

Rear Adm. Frank L. Ponds, commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, conducted an all hands meeting Feb. 21 to discuss the effects of the ongoing continuing resolution and potential sequestration. He discussed the possibility of proposed furloughs, acknowledging the significant negative impact they would have on the civilian workforce if they are instituted.

“I want to first thank you for your patience as we work through these challenging budget times to keep our workforce and warfighting force whole,” Ponds said. “It will challenge us. It will create doubt and uncertainty. But it will not break us.”

Ponds asked everyone to become familiar with the issues of the continuing resolution and sequestration.

The Defense Department maintains a website about the issue at http://1.usa.gov/XPm1kj.

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