Pentagon officials are striving for consistency and fairness as they comply with sequestration budget cuts, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a written response to 126 House lawmakers who last week urged the Pentagon to make ‘merit-based’ furlough decisions instead.
“While I appreciate your request to allow services the maximum flexibility to determine civilian furlough numbers, DoD’s most important responsibility is national security,” Hagel said in his April 26 letter. “In reallocating resources throughout the department to the highest national security priorities, we will strive for consistency and fairness across the department.”
American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said he was “surprised and disappointed” by Hagel’s response. “Components and agencies should not clearly be forced to take the same number of furlough days,” Cox wrote. “If components or agencies have come up with offsetting sequestration cuts of generate their own revenues, they should not be required to impose furloughs.”
The letter lawmakers sent Hagel last week demanded that Defense implement a “merit-based” approach in regard to furloughs, and said managers should be given additional discretion to implement sequestration related budget cuts. They said that furloughs were punishing agencies that had cut costs in previous years, while granting leeway to those that were still profligate. It followed similar correspondence from Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, who said that Defense’s current approach to furloughs was damaging for readiness and morale.
Some elements within Defense, such as the Navy, have said civilian furloughs would be extremely detrimental for their operations and would likely cost the government more in the long term. However, the Pentagon has been adamant on maintaining equality and fairness because of fears of legal repercussions.
The stop-gap government funding law for the rest of fiscal 2013 allowed Defense to reduce the number of furlough days for civilians from 22 to 14. Defense is currently granting limited furlough exceptions for employees working in intelligence, public safety and health positions. Hagel recently told a congressional panel that the Pentagon would submit a large budget transfer request to help cope with sequestration cuts, and that further action on furloughs would be decided in the coming weeks.
Cox said that other federal agencies -- including the Homeland Security and Justice departments -- had “reconsidered premature decisions to impose furloughs,” and that Hagel should do the same.
“There is no budgetary or statutory reason why you can’t show similar leadership,” Cox wrote.