Most Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees can expect to spend up to 11 days on furlough by September 30.  The furlough period will begin on July 8 at a rate of one day per week. 

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the decision at a town hall meeting in Alexandria, VA, yesterday.  “I have made this decision very reluctantly, because I know that the furloughs will disrupt lives and impact DoD operations,” Hagel said.

Initially, DoD had set the number of furlough days at 22, but later lowered it to 14.  At that time Hagel said “we have moved from 22 to 14 and maybe we can do better.”  Today, Hagel did not close the door to making additional cuts in the number of furlough days at a later date saying “if our budgetary situation permits us to end furloughs early, I would strongly prefer to do so.”

The decision comes after weeks of review and analysis of the final FY2013 DoD appropriations bill and DoD’s budgetary situation, especially the existence of major Operations and Maintenance (O&M) shortfalls.  Congress did enact some important flexibilities in the FY2013 bill (additional O&M dollars and reprograming authorities) and DoD has been cutting back on overhead and operating costs to address these shortfalls.  But, Hagel said even with these actions, the $37 billion sequestration cut and larger than projected war costs will result in a shortfall in operating funds.

Regarding the implementation of the furloughs, Hagel reiterated DoD’s policy to be consistent across the department.  He told DoD employees at the town hall meeting “we are all in this together” and he emphasized the decision has to be “fair.” 

Nevertheless, he noted that there would be some exceptions that are “driven by law and by the need to minimize harm to the execution of our core missions.”  “For example, all employees deployed or temporarily assigned to a combat zone will be excepted from furloughs,” he said.  And, employees necessary to protect life and property, including select medical personnel, will be exempt.

In a memo to DoD leaders explaining the decision, Hagel also identified “a few categories of workers that will be excepted for specific mission reasons.”  Among those are Navy shipyard employees “because it would be difficult to make up delays in maintenance on nuclear vessels.”  However, all other depot employees are not exempt from furloughs.  The Navy had pushed hard to be allowed to have the flexibility to avoid furloughing its shipyard workers.  Congress had pressed DoD leaders to exempt most depot workers.

Other furlough exemptions include employees funded by non-appropriated funds (NAF), as furloughs of these employees would not reduce the budget, and those employees not paid directly from the DoD military budget (e.g., Arlington National Cemetery and DOD Civil Works).  More detailed information on exemptions is included in the attachment to Hagel’s memo.

The memo laid out the following timeline for furloughs:

                May 28-June 5:  Furlough notices to employees

                June 4- June 12:  Individual 7-day reply period

                June 5-July 5:  Furlough decision letters to employees

                July 8:  Furloughs begin