DoD Comptroller Bob Hale told a town hall meeting at the Pentagon yesterday that furloughs for DoD civilian employees could begin as early as April 26 if Congress does not come up with an alternative to sequestration.

During the 40-minute briefing, during which he took questions from the audience, Hale provided an update on the effects sequestration would have on the department and the efforts underway to mitigate them. 

He cited the grim effect  the across-the-board cuts would have on military readiness, emphasizing the large O&M funding shortfalls the military services would experience, especially the Army.  Flying hours are already being cut  and ship maintenance would be reduced, he said.  In discussing the effect the sequestration is already having on training, military and civilian, Hale said many conferences, which Hale called “training events,” that DoD employees were scheduled to attend have been canceled or delayed.  He also said that DoD estimates 2,500 investment programs would be affected.

Acknowledging that impending furloughs were foremost on DoD civilian employees’ minds, Hale spent  much of his briefing and most of the question and answer period discussing how DoD was preparing to implement furloughs.  Hale repeated often that he hoped furloughs, which he called “a last resort, but not the last resort,” would not have to be implemented.

However, he said that there was no doubt that unless an alternative to the across-the-board cuts was not found furloughs would surely be implemented.  He repeated what Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter told Congress last month:  most of DoD’s 800,000 civilian employees could be furloughed for one day per week for up to 22 weeks, amounting to a 20 percent pay cut.  When asked if some DoD components could avoid furloughs under a sequester due to their specific circumstances Hale said he didn’t think so.  “Consistency and fairness is the right approach,” he said.  DOD would do some “cross-leveling” of funding by transferring funds to address specific difficulties for some components, but components would not be excused from furloughs.

Hale described the furlough timeline for March and April.  He said DoD notified Congress on February 20 that it would issue furlough notices if sequestration went into effect.  That meant furloughs could begin after 45 days.  He said DoD officials are currently reviewing recommendations on exceptions from components and should finish by March 15.

He stressed that DoD has entered into consultations with unions, which will end on March 1.  He reminded the audience that unions have the right to bargain on how furloughs are implemented, not if they are implemented.

Between March 22 and March 26, DoD will notify exempted employees and those who could be furloughed.  This will begin the 30-day wait period.  Hale said exemptions will be limited to civilians serving in combat zones and many directly involved with maintaining safety for life and property.  Employees will be able to appeal decisions to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Furlough decisions will be sent to employees during April 1-25, which means that actual furloughs could begin as soon as April 26.

When asked if furloughs could be repeated next year if sequestration continues, Hale said he doubted it.  If DoD has to take $52 billion in cuts next year, military strategy and force structure will have to be reviewed.  Rather than furloughs for civilian employees, this could mean lost jobs.