U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Wednesday notified the Congress that should automatic budget cuts be triggered on March 1, the Pentagon would be forced to furlough much of its civilian workforce.
According to a memo to all Department of Defense (DoD) employees, Panetta said although the department would be able to exempt military personnel funding from the cuts, known as sequestration, they have no legal authority to exempt civilian personnel funding from reductions.
"As a result, should sequestration occur and continue for a substantial period, DoD will be forced to place the vast majority of its civilian workforce on administrative furlough," said Panetta.
According to Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, civilian employees could lose 20 percent of their normal income through September if they are furloughed.
Panetta said the department will work to ensure furloughs are executed in a consistent and appropriate manner, and all affected employees will be provided at least 30 days' notice prior to executing a furlough, and their benefits will be protected to the maximum extent possible.
Panetta also vowed to continue working with Congress to avoid sequestration, which would add 470 billion dollars to the 487 billion in defense spending cuts the department already is making over the next 10 years. If Congress cannot agree on an alternative deficit reduction plan, the cuts go into effect March 1.
The automatic cuts would mean 85 billion dollars of cuts to be implemented in the final seven months of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Defense spending would bear about half of them.
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