Lack of Supplemental Funding May Lead to Civilian Furloughs
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2007 The Defense Department is developing plans to send furlough notices to some civilian workers as early as mid-December if Congress doesn’t pass the $178 billion emergency supplemental funding bill quickly, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters today. (Video)
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates notified Congress today that the Defense Department will need to borrow – or “reprogram” – funds from the Navy and Air Force and the working capital fund to cover ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Morrell said.
“Without dedicated funding for the global war on terror, we have been forced to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with money from the budgets of each of the services,” he said. As a result, the Army’s operations and maintenance budget is expected to dry up in early February, and the Marine Corps’ O&M money will run out in early March.
In addition, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, which tests new projects, ideas, ways of doing business and equipment to counter IEDs, “won’t make it into the new year,” Morrell said. Retired Army Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, the JIEDDO director, told reporters yesterday his funds will be depleted Dec. 1.
Gates’ reprogramming request will shift $3.7 billion from the Navy and Air Force payrolls and an $800 million excess in the working capital fund to Army, Marine Corps and JIEDDO operations. The reprogramming will sustain JIEEDO for a few more months, “but we can only keep the Army and Marines afloat for a couple of additional weeks,” Morrell said.
The reprogramming is the department’s only remaining option to keep afloat the Army and Marine Corps, which have been keeping up their war efforts at the expense of their own operations and maintenance budgets, Morrell said. “This is the last such move Congress will allow us to make,” he said.
Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters earlier today the Defense Department’s hands are tied with respect to legal constraints on shifting funds to cover shortfalls. “Those who think that we have some sort of flexibility here simply are misinformed,” he said. “We have very little reprogramming authority, very little. … You can’t do more than what they allow you to reprogram.”
As a result, Gates directed the Army and Marine Corps to begin planning to reduce operations at all Army bases by mid-February and all Marine installations by mid-March, Morrell said. “At that point, the bases will be all but shut down, able to provide only the most basic safety and security measures for those who reside there,” he said.
In addition, the department will begin notifying about 200,000 civilian employees and contractors “we can no longer afford their services and that, absent additional funding, they will be furloughed or temporarily laid off within a matter of weeks,” Morrell said.
He noted that some civilian employees’ contracts require 60 days’ notice of an upcoming furlough. As a result, Army employees whose paychecks won’t be covered after mid-February will begin getting notice in mid-December of an imminent furlough.
Morrell insisted that the plans “aren’t scare tactics” designed to prod Congress to move supplemental legislation. President Bush has insisted he will not accept legislation that has strings attached that include timelines for troop withdrawals from Iraq.
“These are the facts,” Morrell said. “We are not out to scare anybody. We are not out to issue propaganda. We are out to adequately fund our troops who are in battle right now, and we are only dealing with the facts here.”
The Defense Department considers the pending budget crisis “a very dire situation” and is taking all steps necessary to ensure its uniformed force doesn’t go wanting while operating in harm’s way, Morrell said. America’s troops on the battlefield “deserve to be treated right,” he said. “They deserve to have the money needed to support their operations.”