WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will sharply cut the number of unpaid furlough days civilians will be forced to take over the next several months from 22 to 14, defense officials said Wednesday, reducing the impact of automatic budget cuts on as many as 700,000 workers.
According to defense officials, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the decision Wednesday, as military service chiefs and defense leaders continued to work through the details, trying to prioritize how they will allocate the more than $10 billion that Congress, in an attempt to take some of the sting out of the across-the-board budget cuts, shifted to operations and maintenance accounts. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter ahead of the public announcement.
While some of the military services initially considered eliminating the furloughs altogether, senior leaders argued that since not all the services could do that, it would be better to treat all civilians across the defense department equally.
The military had been faced with some $43 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts that kicked in March 1, but lawmakers passed a massive spending bill last week that shifted money around in order to give the Defense Department more flexibility in how it found the savings.
Initially, civilians would have been required to take one day a week off without pay for 22 weeks, through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 — a 20 percent pay cut for more than five months. The congressional action has given officials the leeway to lessen the salary cuts and also spread money around to other key priorities.
As an example, the Navy had delayed the refueling overhauls of two aircraft carriers, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Abraham Lincoln — critical maintenance work that officials said would be among the priorities if additional funding could be identified.