The Pentagon acknowledged on Wednesday that some services could afford to eliminate at least some planned civilian furloughs, but the department still is aiming for a unified departmentwide policy on forced unpaid leave and will make a decision soon.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters during a daily press briefing that the Defense Department was emphasizing a “one team, one fight” approach to furloughs even though there were “pockets of money in different places for each of the services" that could eliminate the mandatory unpaid days.
“To be totally straightforward, the math does work for some services to avoid some furloughs, at a minimum,” Little said. “For other services, it is harder."
The Navy in particular has pushed for the authority to eliminate furloughs for its civilian workforce, arguing that it can achieve necessary savings without them and that furloughs would cost more than they save in the long run.
Defense civilians originally faced 22 furlough days as department planners struggled to comply with automatic budget cuts due to sequestration, but that number came down to 14 after a stopgap government-funding bill signed in March gave the Pentagon additional spending discretion.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will make a final decision on furloughs “in the near future,” Little said Wednesday.
In response to a bipartisan group of 126 lawmakers, Hagel said the department would emphasize “consistency and fairness” in furlough decisions. He also called for lawmakers’ assistance. “In order to minimize the impact of sequester, including furloughs, we need the help of Congress, especially in approving reprogrammings,” he said in the letter made public Tuesday.
Both Hagel and Defense Comptroller Robert Hale have noted possible legal repercussions if furloughs are not implemented equitably.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters on Tuesday at a lunch sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor that Hagel was pushing Defense officials “to keep looking” for ways to eliminate or reduce furloughs, the Washington Post reported.
“I don’t know if we’re going to find the opportunity to avoid it entirely, but we would certainly like to do so,” Dempsey said.