By Jeremy Herb - 08/06/13 05:42 PM EDT
The Pentagon is cutting the number of days more than 650,000 civilian workers will be furloughed this year from 11 to six.
The Defense Department was able to reduce the mandatory furloughs due to a large reprogramming request and savings found elsewhere in the budget.
The reduction means civilian workers will only be required to take six furlough days in the final 11 weeks of the fiscal year, which ends in September, rather than one day per week.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that the reduced furloughs were possible because of the $9 billion reprogramming request that Congress mostly approved in July, as well as lower-than-expected costs in areas like transporting equipment from Afghanistan.
“While we are still depending on furlough savings, we will be able to make up our budgetary shortfall in this fiscal year with fewer furlough days than initially announced,” Hagel said.
Hagel had announced in May that the 11 furlough days would be required for most civilian workers in order to achieve roughly $2 billion in savings, as part of the Pentagon’s $37 billion in budget cuts under sequestration.
The Pentagon had initially threatened to furlough civilians for a maximum of 22 days, but cut that number in half after the Defense Appropriations bill was signed into law.
Lawmakers have roundly criticized the furloughs, more than three-quarters of which are occurring outside the Beltway, and the House voted last week to prevent additional furloughs in 2014.
Hagel noted that 2013 was one of the “most volatile and uncertain budget cycles” the Pentagon had experienced, and he warned that the Pentagon faces a cut of $52 billion from its proposed 2014 budget if the sequester is not averted.
Pentagon officials have said they will do everything they can to prevent additional civilian furloughs next year, but Hagel did not rule out the possibility on Tuesday.
“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.