WASHINGTON — Civilians working for the U.S. Defense Department — including about 24,000 in Oklahoma — will be furloughed for 11 days beginning July 8, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday.
The furlough days — two per pay period — will be spread out over the last three months of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, Hagel said at a town hall meeting with defense workers just outside Washington.
Hagel, who noted that earlier furlough plans had envisioned 22 or 14 days without pay, said he and other Pentagon leaders did all they could to spare workers and their families. But, he said, the budget cuts triggered on March 1 already had sliced too deeply into training, maintenance and other defense needs.
Nearly 700,000 civilians are expected to be furloughed under the Pentagon plan.
Hagel said he didn't know whether more furlough days will be necessary in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Oklahoma has three large Air Force bases, including Tinker Air Force Base, which hosts a huge aircraft maintenance depot that employs thousands of civilians. More than 14,000 of the 16,000 Air Force military civilians in Oklahoma are at Tinker.
Two other Air Force bases, near Altus and Enid, are responsible for pilot training.
Fort Sill, a large Army post near Lawton, conducts artillery training. The Army also has an ammunition depot near McAlester. The two installations combined have nearly 8,000 civilian workers.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon estimated that 22 days of furloughs would mean an impact of $129 million on civilian pay in Oklahoma.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, whose district includes Tinker and Fort Sill, urged Air Force officials last week to be discriminating in their furlough policy to ensure the planes repaired at Tinker are safe for flying.
“I've had numerous options to look at,” Hagel told employees on Tuesday. “I've looked at all of them. Everyone has to be treated the same here.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said it was “shameful and irresponsible” that Defense Department civilians were being furloughed, and he blamed the Obama administration for not planning for the budget cuts.
Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also objected to the fact workers at repair depots, such as the one at Tinker, were not exempted. He called the decision “shortsighted” and said it would further hurt the military's readiness.
A memo from Hagel released by the Pentagon says Navy shipyard workers will be exempt from the furloughs but that all other depot workers are subject to them.
In all, about 120,000 civilians are expected to be exempted, including ones in combat zones and others involved in the safety of life and property.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, whose district includes Altus and Vance Air Force bases, called the furlough decision “deeply troubling.”
“As we continue to fight a war in Afghanistan, cuts to our military personnel are the last thing our country needs,” Lucas said. “We must continue to fund the military in order to protect each and every American citizen. Our national defense should not be put in jeopardy due to Congress' inability to make commonsense spending cuts.”
Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said he was disappointed Pentagon leaders “were unable to find places to make cuts that do not harm workers.”
“The Defense Department is extremely adept at being prepared, meeting deadlines and implementing fallback plans, so I am puzzled as to why the department found it unavoidable to cut workers instead of waste. Other agencies ... have found ways — or sought congressional affirmation that they have the flexibility — to make cuts to wasteful administrative costs, not employees with families to support.”