WASHINGTON — After warning early this year of widespread furloughs with catastrophic consequences, the Department of Defense is now sending mixed messages on whether civilian workers will be forced to take off any days without pay.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting on Tuesday, the top two Air Force officials said furloughs were still planned for about 170,000 civilian workers; that would affect an estimated 16,000 Air Force workers in Oklahoma.
However, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told reporters on Tuesday that no decision had been made on furloughs.
Speaking at the National Press Club, Carter said furloughs might still be necessary in the last quarter of the current fiscal year — meaning they would not begin until July.
Carter said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had not made a final decision on furloughs.
“But if we have to impose them, it will harm morale and productivity throughout most of our support functions,” Carter said. “And this will in turn further hurt readiness.”
Carter did not respond directly to a question of whether the Pentagon's warnings about furloughs were “overblown.”
In February, top Defense Department officials warned that nearly 800,000 civilian workers might have to be furloughed for up to 22 days for the department to absorb nearly $40 billion in cuts caused by the sequester — automatic budget cuts that went into effect on March 1.
However, after Congress passed a spending bill that relieved some of the financial pressure on the department, Hagel said no more than 14 days of furloughs would be necessary.
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But if we have to impose them, it will harm morale and productivity throughout most of our support functions. And this will in turn further hurt readiness.”
Deputy Secretary of Defense