Pentagon furloughs begin for more than 650K civilian workers

More than 650,000 civilian workers in the Defense Department will be taking their first of 11 furlough days this week.

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The Pentagon’s 11 weeks of furloughs kick in on Monday, which result in a 20-percent-weekly pay cut through September for 680,000 of the Pentagon’s roughly 800,000 civilian employees.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in May that the Pentagon would mandate the furloughs as part of its $37 billion in automatic budget cuts under sequestration. The unpaid days off are expected to save roughly $1.8 billion.

Initially, the Pentagon had warned that it could furlough Pentagon civilians as many as 22 days in 2013, the maximum allowed by law. Hagel said in June that the Pentagon had been able to cut the number to 11 through trims elsewhere and money that was added to cover shortfalls in the department’s operations and maintenance accounts.

Between now and the end of September, most civilian employees not in war zones or otherwise exempt will take one unpaid day off per week, or two per pay period. Military personnel are exempt from sequester and not subject to furloughs.

The furloughs will become one of the clearest effects of sequestration in 2013 as the Pentagon and the defense industry hope to reverse the cuts in the 2014 budget.

The Pentagon has said it would need to cut $52 billion from its $527 billion base 2014 budget request if sequestration stays in place.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has requested a report from the Pentagon to outline how the cuts would be made; that plan is expected to be sent to Capitol Hill soon.

The lawmakers say they hope the cuts outlined in the report will never take place, as they requested the details in order to help create political will in Congress to reverse the cuts.

The military’s cuts have thus far been unable to spur Congress to act on sequestration, despite the warnings from the military of the devastation the cuts have already had on readiness.

Some defense observers are hopeful that the civilian furloughs will do more to prod lawmakers because they will be occurring across the country, and they could have a sizable impact on the economies of towns with a big military presence.