Pentagon won't extend furloughs into FY '14

The Pentagon is putting the breaks on future furloughs of its civilian workforce and will explore other options to curb spending inside the Defense Department.

DOD officials last Thursday kept the door open to extending the current round of furloughs beyond September to help pay off the department's $41 billion share of the across-the-board budget cuts under the White House's sequestration plan. 

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But DOD Comptroller Bob Hale on Monday said the department would not extend the furloughs, but rather seek "long-term options" to pay off the Pentagon's sequestration bill. 

"We will look for other options. They may not be pleasant, and they may force us into some difficult choices. But we definitely don't want to repeat what we're doing now," Hale said during a web conference sponsored by the Association of Government Accountants. 

Hale said those future options may include force reductions within the armed services and "involuntary separations" of service members from the military ranks, according to WFED Radio

"But we want to start doing this with more of a scalpel and less of a meat axe. We'll have to get smaller and we'll have to look at some areas where we can take some more risk," he added. 

Hale's comments come days after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that 750,000 civilian employees will be furloughed for 14 days instead of the 22 days initially projected by the Pentagon.

Keeping DOD workers at home and not paying them for the 14 days between now and Sept. 30 will save $2.5 billion, Hagel said. The 22 days of furloughs would have saved the Pentagon about $5 billion, according to the Pentagon

That said, DOD “will see where we are” at the end of the current fiscal year in September and then begin deciding whether another round of furloughs would be necessary, a senior Defense Department official said last Thursday. 

That decision hinges on whether the While House and Congress can reach a deal on sequestration in the Pentagon's 2014 budget, which is expected to reach Capitol Hill this month. 

Both sides have said it would be good to repeal sequestration, the automatic spending cuts imposed by the White House and Congress as part of a 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling.

But Obama wants some tax hikes to be part of a replacement package, while Republicans say different spending cuts are the only option.

However the DOD budget battle in Congress shakes out, Hale was adamant that all of DOD's civilian workforce would be on the job after September. 

"If that [2014] budget is turned down though and we have to live with sequester-level cuts, we're going to have to look at other longer term choices besides furloughs," Hale said.