Lawmakers Urge 'Merit-Based' Furlough Decisions at Defense

Chuck Hagel recently told a House panel that further action on furloughs would be decided in the coming weeks. Chuck Hagel recently told a House panel that further action on furloughs would be decided in the coming weeks. Defense Department

This story has been updated with Defense Department comment. 

A bipartisan group of 126 lawmakers is asking Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to “review sequestration-related actions” affecting civilian employees, especially furloughs, hiring freezes, and the firing of temporary and term personnel.

The letter, dated April 23 and signed by members of the House, asked Hagel to take a merit-based approach to furloughs and give managers additional discretion to implement cuts that “comply with sequestration.” The Defense Department is punishing agencies that complied with staff drawdowns in fiscal 2009 and 2010, while “appearing to reward” those that have not reduced their staffs yet, the lawmakers said. 

“In essence, under the current furlough guidance, the more streamlined, efficient organizations are footing the bill for those that are still over strength,” they wrote.

The letter follows similar correspondence to Hagel from Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King. The Republican and the Independent questioned whether Defense’s across-the-board approach to furloughs to maintain fairness was worth the costs in readiness and morale.

Hagel recently told a House panel that further action on furloughs would be decided in the coming weeks. Pentagon officials are preparing to submit a budget transfer request to Congress to help manage the across-the-board budget cuts under sequestration.

Defense spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said in an email to Government Executive that the department would contact the legislators directly regarding the letter. She cited Hagel’s testimony in Congress and said that “there has been no change in guidance.” The department is “prepared to send out furlough notices in May to defense civilian employees,” she said. 

The American Federation of Government Employees backed the letter and also led a campaign to gather signatures in local districts. In a statement released Wednesday, AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said he was heartened to find lawmakers going “on the record with their support for the work that civilian employees do.”

He added: “Our civilian employees are vital to ensuring the safety and security of the military mission, and the Pentagon needs to stop targeting civilian personnel.”

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