Defense Department

Next Year’s Defense Furlough Prospects Uncertain

Officials aim to avoid unpaid leave in 2014, but ‘can’t know the future fully.’

Defense Department officials are bracing themselves for the possibility of additional furloughs or job losses in fiscal 2014 if budget sequestration continues.

A civilian employee at a town hall meeting on Tuesday asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel if the future would provide a respite from adverse moves forced by budget cuts. Hagel said he had “some confidence” in a deal emerging between the White House and Congress, but added that he could not “run an operation” based on hope.

“I can't guarantee you that we're not going to be in some kind of a similar situation next year,” Hagel said. He added that his efforts were currently focused on getting Defense through the current fiscal year.

Hagel told the crowd at the Mark Center in Alexandria, Va., that the department would begin implementing 11 furlough days for civilians on July 8. In a memo later sent to senior Defense officials, furlough exemptions were granted to several classes of workers, including shipyard workers, some personnel funded through the National Intelligence Program, and public health and safety personnel.

Senior Defense officials echoed Hagel’s comments during a background briefing with reporters on Tuesday to further discuss civilian furloughs. The officials said they would “do [their] darndest to avoid” furloughs and possible reductions in force in fiscal 2014, but were unsure about the coming months.

“I sure hope we don't, personally, but I understand we can't know the future fully,” the official said.

Defense Comptroller Robert Hale in late-March told participants at a webinar hosted by the Association of Government Accountants and the American Society of Military Comptrollers that Defense would be forced to look at “involuntary separations” and other “longer term choices” to help meet budget requirements if lawmakers couldn’t agree on an alternative to sequestration.  He wanted to avoid furloughs and implement cuts “with more of a scalpel and less of a meat ax.”

He added: “We’ll have to get smaller and we’ll have to look at some areas where we can take some more risk, get rid of more overhead and make a lot of other tough decisions, but we’re not just going to have a repeat of this mess.”

Other parties, including members of Congress, have become increasingly concerned about the prospect of longer-term sequestration. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently told Defense News that he did not expect a broader fiscal deal before the August recess. 

Sens. Carl Levin D-Mich. and Jim Inhofe R-Okla. wrote a letter to Hagel demanding a “package of reductions” by July that would allow the department to cut $52 billion in fiscal 2014, as required by the 2011 Budget Control Act.