The Defense Department has reduced its original estimate of forced furloughs for more than 800,000 Defense Department civilian employees, from 22 to 14 days. The cutbacks are a result of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.
The decision by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel came a week after the Pentagon announced it was delaying final furlough notices until after April 5 so it could avert some of the unpaid leave. Defense officials said they were deciding how many civilians should be exempt from the unpaid leave, including how much of the US intelligence community should be excluded.
Still, the furloughs now make the military among the largest number of furloughs of all federal employees due to sequestration. The military is taking on half of the $85 million in government spending reductions between March 1 and Sept. 30.
The furlough decrease was made possible by a compromise spending bill, which gives the Defense Department and military more freedom to shift money in Pentagon accounts to help manage the cuts. The Pentagon’s reductions under the new bill would be about $41 billion, rather than the previous estimate of $46 billion. Yet the Defense Department still faces a shortage of about $22 billion this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
“We’re going to have to deal with that reality, and that means we’re going to have to prioritize and make some cuts and do what we got to do,” Hagel said.
Those spending decreases include cuts for U.S. base operations and training for troops preparing to be deployed overseas he said at a news conference.
The current spending reductions aren’t the most severe in military history, but they are the quickest since they are coming halfway through the fiscal year, after the Defense Department has already spent 80 percent of its operating funds. “It’s the steepest decline in our budget ever,” said General Martin Dempsey at the same news conference.
“We don’t yet have a satisfactory solution to that shortfall, and we’re doing everything we can to stretch our readiness out,” General Dempsey said. He said the Defense Department “will have to trade, at some level and to some degree, our future readiness for current operations.”