The furloughs were mandated as part of the Pentagon’s $37 billion budget cut under sequestration in 2013, and they were reduced Tuesday due to savings found elsewhere.
The Pentagon is facing a $52 billion cut in its proposed 2014 budget, and Hagel did not rule out the possibility of furloughs again in the 2014 fiscal year, which begins in October.
“Facing this uncertainty, I cannot be sure what will happen next year, but I want to assure our civilian employees that we will do everything possible to avoid more furloughs,” Hagel said.
Members of Congress from both parties on Tuesday said in statements responding to the news that the furloughs were more evidence sequestration should be averted. The two parties remained deadlocked, however, on how to accomplish that.
"While this is a welcome announcement, I agree with Secretary Hagel that our military readiness remains significantly eroded as a result of the furloughs taken so far and reduced funding for training and equipment as a result of the sequester,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “There ought to be no doubt that sequestration is an irrational and senseless policy that will only put our economy and national security at greater and greater risk if it is allowed to remain in effect.”
A spokesman for the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), said the reduced furloughs were not evidence that sequestration should persist.
"As the secretary said, more furloughs could take place and the military has sharply cut training and maintenance," Smith spokesman Michael Amato said. "Military readiness has taken a serious hit, and the longer sequestration persists, the worse it will get."
Armed Services member Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) lamented the fact that “so many questions remain unanswered” with the 2014 budget.
“Fifty-five days from now we face the beginning of a new fiscal year and an additional $52 billion in cuts,” Wittman said. “No one wants to see furloughs again in fiscal year 2014 and my fear is that if we do not work to replace the sequester cuts, we will face even more drastic consequences.”