News Column

DOD Work Furloughs Announcement Rattles Civilians Worldwide

Feb 21, 2013

Drew C. Wilson

Officials said Wednesday afternoon that civilian employees of the Department of Defense will be sent letters March 1 informing them that furloughs may be implemented in April.

This will mean that the majority of Cherry Point's 3,500 civilian employees at Fleet Readiness Center East and other base workers could be asked to work four out of five days, with the fifth day being unpaid, which translates into a 20 percent cut in pay.

"The bottom line is furloughs will not actually start for DOD employees until late April. And we certainly hope that even if sequestration is triggered on 1 March we hope that Congress will act to de-trigger sequestration or if they can't accomplish that goal by March 1st as the president suggested, to take some short-term action while they are dealing with the broader issue," Robert Hale, under secretary of defense, said at a Pentagon press conference. "Meanwhile unfortunately we will continue our planning for furloughs. Frankly this is the one of the most distasteful tasks I have faced in my four years in this job.

FRC East spokesman Dave Marriott said Wednesday afternoon that the depot had not been informed of a decision on furloughs.

"The effects of sequestration and the Continuing Resolution on our military personnel will be devastating, but on our civilians, it will be catastrophic," said Jessica Wright, acting under secretary of defense for personnel readiness. "These critical members of our workforce work in our depots that maintain and repair our tanks, our aircraft, our ships. They teach our kids. They care for our children. They provide medical treatment to all our beneficiaries. They take care of our wounded warriors."

Wright said the effects could be felt worldwide.

"If furloughs are enacted, civilian employees will experience a 20 percent decrease in their pay between late April and September," he said. "As a result, many families will be forced to make difficult decisions on where their financial obligations lie. Key benefits, such as life insurance benefits, health care, and retirement will generally continue.

"Loss of pay will only be felt by each employee but it will be felt in the business communities where they serve, where their kids go to school and the neighborhoods that they live in. Furloughs will impact the majority of our civilian workforce ... and the department will apply those furloughs if necessary in a consistent and equitable fashion with very few exceptions."

Wright said there was the possibility that base commissary hours could be cut.

"Clearly where we have our large bases, where we have our large depots, will be affected," Hale said.

Hale said he did not expect any new contracts to be cut and that payments to vendors and employees would remain on time.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., sent a letter on Wednesday afternoon dealing with the prospect of the furloughs.

"Most importantly for families in North Carolina, though, is the fact that more than 20,000 civilian employees at Camp Lejeune, New River, Cherry Point and other military bases in our state face more than $57 million in collective pay cuts," she said in the letter.

"Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of employees face layoffs and furloughs. While the jobs of military personnel are rightly protected from sequestration, these indiscriminate cuts would hit our civilian workforce hard.

"Beginning on March 1st -- just about a week from now -- the (military) services plan to begin canceling work conducted at military depots, such as Cherry Point. In fact, the Navy proposes canceling $81 million in maintenance at Cherry Point -- work that is critical to our local economy and our national security. While this could save money in the short-term, delaying preventive care today can actually increase maintenance costs in the future."

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Source: (c) 2013 Havelock News (Havelock, N.C.)