WASHINGTON (AP/WAVY) - U.S. Department of Defense officials say they will be able to ease the pain of mandatory, unpaid furloughs that civilian employees have had to bear for a month because of budgetary pressures.
The Associated Press learned that civilians facing 11 unpaid days off will have those cut to six days.
Officials say the Pentagon found sufficient savings in the final months of the current fiscal year to lessen the burden on those who have had to take a day off a week without pay since early July.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel approved the final numbers this week after meeting with top leaders (view his full statement below).
The news means between $300 and $600 per paycheck will go back into the budgets of 40,000 Hampton Roads military families.
The Director of the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance Craig Quigley said everyone in Hampton Roads will benefit from the decision, not just federal workers.
"If you put more money into the household finances of the civil servants throughout Hampton Roads, they are going to have more money to spend in the various retail businesses," said Quigley.
WAVY.com spoke with 4th District Congressman Randy Forbes about the announcement Tuesday.
"[Secretary Hagel] realizes, I think, now that he made a huge mistake and I'm glad he's reversing course...," said Forbes.
Forbes said comments from the Service Chiefs indicated there were already ample funds in the budget to prevent furloughs and maintain current staffs.
"Because there was no pot of money that just fell out of the sky," Forbes said. "He never had to do this in the first place."
Still, there is no guarantee there won't be more furloughs next year.
"There's no question that while the individuals and families affected by these furloughs will feel relief until September 30, so many questions remain unanswered," said 1st District Congressman Rob Wittman in a statement Tuesday. " ... Congress has left town without providing any certainty for a fiscal year that begins in less than 60 days. That's simply unacceptable."
Senator Mark Warner released a statement to 10 On Your Side Tuesday saying that broader budget issues remain and that he would continue "...pushing a bipartisan agreement that cuts federal spending in a rational way and reforms our tax code and entitlement program in a fair way."
Representative Scott Rigell released a statement Tuesday in a similar vein:
Though today's announcement is a step in the right direction, there is more work to be done. I will continue to call upon Secretary Hagel to take the steps necessary to eliminate defense furloughs entirely. Furthermore, I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to advance a wiser, legislative alternative to sequestration.
WAVY.com wanted to hear from those directly affected by Tuesday's announcement and spoke with a DoD worker who says he's already felt the pain of five unpaid days, and he's cautiously optimistic about the latest news.
"I'm happy it's supposed to be ending, but I haven't gotten the official word yet," said Roman Ross. "While six is way better than 11, it still amounts to 10 percent of my income or there abouts."
Ross says he'll continue the cost-saving measures he's already begun in his household because it's still too soon to breathe a sigh of relief with another round of budget talks looming.
"Nobody's getting anything done in Washington D.C.," said Ross. "The two parties played a game of chicken, and we're the people who got affected. Nobody blinked. I don't remember the last time I went out for a steak dinner. I don't remember the last time my son and I went to a movie."
If furloughs happened once, Ross says they could certainly happen again.
The following is Secretary Hagel's full statement from Tuesday afternoon:
When I announced my decision on May 14 to impose furloughs of up to 11 days on civilian employees to help close the budget gap caused by sequestration, I also said we would do everything possible to find the money to reduce furlough days for our people. With the end of the fiscal year next month, managers across the DoD are making final decisions necessary to ensure we make the $37 billion spending cuts mandated by sequestration, while also doing everything possible to limit damage to military readiness and our workforce. We are joined in this regard by managers in non-defense agencies who are also working to accommodate sequestration cuts while minimizing mission damage. As part of that effort at the Department of Defense, I am announcing today that, thanks to the DoD's efforts to identify savings and help from Congress, we will reduce the total numbers of furlough days for DoD civilian employees from 11 to six.
When sequestration took effect on March 1, DoD faced shortfalls of more than $30 billion in its budget for day-to-day operating costs because of sequestration and problems with wartime funding. At that point we faced the very real possibility of unpaid furloughs for civilian employees of up to
As early as January, DoD leaders began making painful and far reaching changes to close this shortfall: civilian hiring freezes, layoffs of temporary workers, significant cuts in facilities maintenance, and more. We also sharply cut training and maintenance. The Air Force stopped flying in many squadrons, the Navy kept ships in port, and the Army cancelled training events. These actions have seriously reduced military readiness.
By early May, even after taking these steps, we still faced day-to-day budgetary shortfalls of $11 billion. At that point I decided that cutting any deeper into training and maintenance would jeopardize our core readiness mission and national security, which is why I announced furloughs of 11 days.
Hoping to be able to reduce furloughs, we submitted a large reprogramming proposal to Congress in May, asking them to let us move funds from acquisition accounts into day-to-day operating accounts. Congress approved most of this request in late July, and we are working with them to meet remaining needs. We are also experiencing less than expected costs in some areas, such as transportation of equipment out of Afghanistan. Where necessary, we have taken aggressive action to transfer funds among services and agencies. And the furloughs have saved us money.
As a result of these management initiatives, reduced costs, and reprogramming from Congress, we have determined that we can make some improvements in training and readiness and still meet the sequestration cuts. The Air Force has begun flying again in key squadrons, the Army has increased funding for organizational training at selected units, and the Navy has restarted some maintenance and ordered deployments that otherwise would not have happened. 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.
This has been one of the most volatile and uncertain budget cycles the Department of Defense has ever experienced. Our fiscal planning has been conducted under a cloud of uncertainty with the imposition of sequestration and changing rules as Congress made adjustments to our spending authorities.
As we look ahead to fiscal year 2014, less than two months away, the Department of Defense still faces major fiscal challenges. If Congress does not change the Budget Control Act, DoD will be forced to cut an additional $52 billion in FY 2014, starting on October 1. This represents 40 percent more than this year's sequester-mandated cuts of $37 billion. 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.
I want to thank our civilian workers for their patience and dedication during these extraordinarily tough times, and for their continued service and devotion to our department and our country. I know how difficult this has been for all of you and your families. Your contribution to national security is invaluable, and I look forward to one day putting this difficult period behind us. Thank you and God Bless you and your families.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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