This story has been updated.
The Pentagon will reduce the number of furlough days for civilian employees to six days through the end of September, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday.
Defense officials found other ways to make the budget cuts mandated by sequestration, enabling the department to reduce forced unpaid leave from 11 days to six days in fiscal 2013, he said. Specifically, the reduction was made possible by management initiatives, reduced costs and congressional approval of a request to reprogram funds.
The reprieve affects some 650,000 civilians, and most employees will complete their sixth day of unpaid leave by Aug. 17. If not, then they must do so before Oct. 1. Employees initially faced up to 22 days of unpaid leave before Sept. 30; the department has reduced the number of furlough days incrementally throughout the spring and summer.
Furloughs for personnel on 10-month contracts working for the department’s Education Activity are canceled because they were already subject to five days of unpaid leave “to ensure a creditable year of schooling for our students; now the teaching year will not be reduced at all,” Hagel said in a memo to officials announcing the furlough news. Newly hired civilian employees whose unpaid leave period began after the week of July 8 must complete an equivalent of two furlough days per full pay period between the starting date for their furloughs and August 17.
The American Federation of Government Employees applauded the latest reduction, but said the affected employees should be reimbursed for lost pay.
“The terrible economic harm and injustice that has already been done to the 650,000 DoD civilians who should have never been furloughed has yet to be addressed," said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr., in a statement. "I am calling on Secretary Hagel to take immediate action to reimburse the furloughed employees for the six days of income they have lost."
Hagel warned recently that civilian layoffs are possible if sequestration continues into fiscal 2014.
In his statement Tuesday, he reiterated that Defense continues to face financial challenges, and would need to cut $52 billion in fiscal 2014 if sequestration continues. This is 40 percent more than the $37 billion in sequestration-related cuts this year, he noted.
"Facing this uncertainty, I cannot be sure what will happen next year, but I want to assure our civilian employees that we will do everything possible to avoid more furloughs," he said.