Entire DOD workforce faces furlough threat

Panetta supports furloughs rather than firings in response to possible budget cuts mandated by sequestration.

About 800,000 Defense Department civilian workers still face the possibility of three-week unpaid furloughs on a rotating basis if Congress fails to deal with the coming threat of sequester in two months, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

“There could be up to 800,000 facing some kind of furlough” after the fiscal cliff deal reached by Congress on New Year’s Day put off until early March agreement on how to address more than $1 trillion in cuts mandated under the process called “sequester,” said George Little, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been trying to avoid the possibility of firing workers “because Congress can’t do its job. Furlough is the first choice” if sequester becomes a reality, Little said.

“I can’t give a precise number on how many would be furloughed” under sequester, Little said. “We’re waiting for guidance from OMB” – the White House Office of Management and Budget, Little said.

Under federal law, civilian DOD workers can be furloughed for up to 22 days, and all 800,000 could possibly be subject to furlough on a rotating basis, Little said.

The fiscal cliff deal called for $24 billion in immediate cuts in federal spending, but the impact on DOD was unclear. “We’re analyzing that at this moment,” Little said.

Panetta was returning to the Pentagon Wednesday after spending the holidays at his California home, and he was urging Congress “to find a way to end sequestration once and for all,” Little said. “The spectre of fiscal guns to the head – none of that is welcome,” Little said.

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Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.