WASHINGTON — As many as 700,000 civilian employees at the Defense Department, including about 24,000 in Oklahoma, will be furloughed for as long as 14 work days beginning in June, eight fewer days than originally anticipated after Congress gave military officials greater flexibility to apportion automatic budget cuts driving the layoffs.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described the reduction from 22 days to two weeks as “good news” during a Pentagon news conference Thursday.
Furlough notices will be sent out in early May, and the furloughs will begin in June and last through September. Employees will be furloughed for one day in each of the last 14 weeks of the 2013 budget year.
The thorny issue of who will be exempt remains unresolved. Pentagon officials have estimated that at least 10 percent of the department's roughly 800,000 civilian workers will not face furloughs, but they have declined to identify them.
The Pentagon has said it will not furlough civilians in the war zone and in critical public safety jobs, or people whose jobs are not paid for through congressional funding. Also exempt are as many as 50,000 foreign nationals who work for the department but are covered by international agreements.
The automatic cuts took effect March 1, triggered by Congress' failure to trim the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over a decade. The Pentagon initially faced a $46 billion budget reduction through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, but Hagel said a new spending bill signed by Obama this week lowered the reduction by roughly $5 billion. That allows the military to start military construction projects and other programs that otherwise would have been delayed.
The furloughs are expected to save about $2.5 billion, Hagel said.
Before the bill was signed, civilians would have been required to take one day a week off without pay for 22 weeks — a 20-percent pay cut for more than five months. The spending bill gave officials the leeway to lessen the salary cuts and spread money around to other key priorities, including training, maintenance and possible ship deployments.