Defense Secretary Leon Panetta notified Congress today that if sequestration occurs as scheduled on March 1, DoD could begin issuing furlough notices. 

Sequestration would cause over $40 billion in across-the-board cuts to DoD for the remainder of FY013.  Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that sequestration coupled with a year-long continuing resolution would mean that most of DoD’s 800,000 civilian employees could be furloughed for one day per week for up to 22 weeks.  This would amount to a 20 percent pay cut for affected personnel.

In a message to DoD personnel Panetta said that if sequestration is implemented he and DoD’s leaders will do “everything we can to continue to perform our core mission of providing for the security of the United States.”  But Panetta said he has limited flexibility in implementing the across-the-board cuts.  He pointed out that the president has used available legal authority to exempt military personnel funding from sequestration.  But, he said, no such legal authority exists to exempt civilian personnel funding.

Panetta said if sequestration occurs and continues for a “substantial period” DoD will have to ”place the vast majority of its civilian workforce on administrative furlough.” 

In December, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued administrative furlough guidance to agencies before the first sequestration deadline, which was January 2, 2013.  The administration and the Congress reached an agreement that extended the deadline until March 1, 2013.  Right now, there appears to be little chance of an agreement on an alternative to sequestration or another extension I the next 10 days.

If DoD has to begin furloughing civilian personnel, Panetta said all effected employees will be given at least 30 days notice and that “benefits will be protected to the maximum extent possible.”