Furlough Decision ‘Arduous,’ Official Says
By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 31, 2013 The Defense Department continues to look at ways to reduce or avoid furloughs, the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness said today, but she added that “right now, unfortunately, the department will furlough civilian employees for up to 11 days.”
"The decision to furlough the civilian employees was a very hard, arduous decision,” Jessica L. Wright said, but it was based on preserving the readiness of the force.
"About 85 percent of our [civilian] force will be furloughed," Wright said, including teachers at Department of Defense Education Activity schools.
But preserving the integrity of the academic year was the central concern for the department, she added. Teachers will be furloughed for five days at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, she explained, but it is up to each superintendent to decide what days will be furlough days. Schools will be closed to students on those days, she said.
Extracurricular activities scheduled for a furlough day will be held, provided they start after the normal duty day ends, said Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
"But, it's important to note that our summer school will be held this year, and that children will get a good academic year," Wright added.
The department has about 767,000 appropriated fund employees, Hull-Ryde said. About 652,000 are scheduled to be furloughed, she said, but that total will change as employees respond to furlough notices and final determinations are made. Appropriated fund employees include those employees who are not appointed by Congress or the president and who are paid by funds designated by Congress.
According to the Defense Civilian Personnel Advisory Service website, nonappropriated fund employees may be furloughed for business-based reasons "if the reduction in appropriated fund resources leads to a curtailment in [morale, welfare and recreation] or exchange business operations. … Furloughs of NAF employees are processed under DOD NAF human resources policies and component procedures."
Furlough notices started going out to appropriated fund employees May 28, Wright said.
"They will either be hand-delivered,” she said, “because the employee must sign that they've received the furlough notice, or, if the employee is on leave, it could be sent [via] certified mail."
Civilians excepted from furloughs generally fall into specific categories, Wright said. Examples include civilians working in combat zones, personnel with safety-of-life responsibilities, wounded warrior caregivers and full-time sexual assault prevention and response coordinators and sexual assault victim advocates for the active and reserve components.
Employees who receive a furlough notice will have seven days to respond if they believe their duties fall into one of the excepted categories, Hull-Ryde said. Otherwise, furloughs will start no later than July 8. The furlough days will be spread over the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Wright said she urges employees with furlough questions to reach out to their human resources department and to read the detailed guidance about furloughs on the Office of Professional Management’s website.
The websites for the Labor Department and OPM can assist employees with questions about eligibility for unemployment compensation, Wright said. Those eligibility requirements differ from state to state, Hull-Ryde noted.
Not all states will be affected equally, Wright said. "The majority of our workers work outside the Washington, D.C., area," she noted.
More than 80 percent of the federal workforce is based outside the national capital region, Wright said. According to Defense Department figures, in the five states with the most federal employees -- California, Georgia, Maryland, Texas and Virginia -- workers will lose $819 million in wages due to furloughs.
Every employee's situation is unique, Wright said, but the bottom line is this decision was made to preserve readiness of the military force as a whole.
"Readiness is not a service-specific thing," she said, "It's a joint, departmental thing. “We made a very collective decision to be collective on this furlough -- that we would furlough the department as a whole."
Senior defense officials have stated that the effects of sequestration will be long-lasting. Uncertainty over whether sequestration will continue has made it difficult to know whether furloughs will continue into fiscal year 2014, Wright said.
"I think that next year is going to be a difficult year," she said. "We are in the process -- the department as a whole -- of working through some of the options for next year's budget. … If sequestration is in effect, it will be very difficult, but we have not made a decision."
Pentagon officials will do “everything in our power” not to have to furlough employees, she added.