Thousands of Defense Department employees in Pierce and Thurston counties still face unpaid time off this summer, but not as much as the Pentagon initially proposed.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday released a plan requiring about 680,000 civilian employees across the country to take 11 furlough days through the end of September.
Unless Congress allocates money to prevent them, the furloughs are to begin July 8, meaning workers will take off about one day a week for three months.
That’s down from an initial Pentagon proposal that would have mandated 22 unpaid days off for more than 10,000 workers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and another 10,000 elsewhere in the Evergreen State.
Congress’ failure in March to avert the forced federal budget cuts known as sequestration triggered the Defense Department’s furlough proposal. Hagel wrote in a memo to civilian employees that the Pentagon faces a $37 billion shortfall this year because of the forced cuts and increased spending in Afghanistan.
Hagel wrote that each military service already has reduced training, purchases and maintenance for units not bound for South Korea and Afghanistan. Cutting more of those services would reduce military readiness for other missions, he wrote.
“Difficult choice, but we had to make it,” Hagel said at a roundtable with Defense Department employees in Alexandria, Va. “We did everything we could not to get to this day, this way. But that’s it. That’s where we are.”
The White House earlier this year released a report suggesting Washington state employees would lose $173.4 million in take-home pay from the initial, 22-day furlough proposal. That sum has drawn congressional lawmakers back to the state several times this year to highlight communities that would be affected most by the furloughs.
They again decried the furloughs after Hagel announced the new proposal.
“These furloughs are entirely due to the irresponsible decisions of Congress,” said U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia. “Instead of working together to come up with a balanced, reasonable plan for reducing our deficit, most members of Congress have chosen to tacitly support harmful, thoughtless, across-the-board cuts.”
Lewis-McChord spokesman Joe Piek said civilian employees are watching news about the furloughs. Notices are expected to go out in late May. Until then, local military leaders are drafting plans for how to adjust schedules and reassign work to accommodate the unpaid time off.
Furlough notices were supposed to go out in early April, but Congress eased some spending restrictions, and the Defense Department was able to delay and adjust them.
“It’s just kind of on the simmer,” Piek said. “We basically have been waiting to hear what the results are going to be, whether the number of days would be reduced, or whether the furloughs would occur.”
The new furlough plan exempts Navy shipyard workers. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said the concession was good news for Navy workers in Kitsap County. He has submitted bills that would lessen the impact of the military cuts.
“These problems are entirely avoidable if Congress would get its act together and replace these across-the-board cuts altogether,” he said.Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/military