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Deciding Who Gets Furloughed Is a Sticky Wicket

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Congress has asked the Pentagon to shoulder about half the spending cuts resulting from sequestration, more than $40 billion, in the remainder of fiscal 2013. For months, the Defense Department has been wrestling with how and where to implement the cuts.

Budget leaders were given some extra flexibility recently, when a spending bill to keep government operational through September transferred $10 billion into the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance accounts. This prompted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to scale back furloughs for the department’s civilian workforce of nearly 800,000 employees from 22 days to 14.

Not everyone at Defense will be furloughed, however. Military personnel are exempt by law. But the Pentagon also will exempt or protect certain fields by policy, Defense Comptroller Robert Hale said last week during a webinar hosted by the Association of Government Accountants and the American Society of Military Comptrollers.

Policy protections include family programs on military bases. While programs like schools for military families are subject to budget cuts, fear not, a soldier’s daughter will not have to repeat the second grade due to sequestration. Teachers will not be furloughed to the “extent we have to ensure our kids get a creditable school year,” Hale said.

Exemptions by policy also include the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides support programs for injured veterans and their families. “We owe [veterans] the care, if they are going to shed blood on our behalf,” he said.

Family programs will be protected “where we can, and this won’t be across the board,” Hale added.

Most Are Still Not Exempt

“Hey, can we not get furloughed as well?”

This is what military technicians are asking in a petition on the White House’s We the People website.

“More than half of the uniformed service members that support the guard and reserve are federal technicians -- responsible for readiness, training, veterans and military issues,” the petition’s author wrote. “Yet now they will not be able to function in their roles, and both state and federal support will suffer. It is essential to include National Guard and reserve technicians to their true role of military members also exempt from the furloughs.”

The technicians face an uphill battle. They have cracked 2,000 signatures, but remain well shy of the 100,000 required to prompt an official White House response. 

TRICARE

During the webinar, Hale also discussed how sequestration will affect the military’s health plan. The number crunchers originally thought they would have to delay payments to private health care providers due to the budget cuts, but they have “found a way around that,” he noted.

The Pentagon will, however, have to cancel research projects and routine maintenance at military health care facilities for the remainder of fiscal 2013, Hale said. In addition, service members seeking medical treatment will face longer delays because sequestration will limit resources.    

Eric Katz joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 after graduating from The George Washington University, where he studied journalism and political science. He has written for his college newspaper and an online political news website and worked in a public affairs office for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Most recently, he worked for Financial Times, where he reported on national politics.

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