Barring a highly unlikely last-minute reprieve, furloughs will begin next week for more than 25,000 Department of Defense civilians in Alabama.
That doesn't mean efforts to lower the number of days of unpaid leave have stopped, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said last week.
Pentagon civilians are set to take 11 days of unpaid leave starting July 8 and running through the end of the fiscal year. Some 15,500 workers at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, 1,900 at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, 3,000 at Anniston Army Depot and 2,200 at Fort Rucker near Dothan will see their pay cut by 20 percent through September.
Making the decision to furlough some 650,000 DOD employees nationwide was "difficult," Hagel said, but necessary so that all available funds can go towards troop readiness.
"I had really no choice but to make some tough decisions on furloughing, because I could not cut any more into readiness. And we've already cut into readiness. We are standing down 16 Air Force squadrons. We're not sailing a lot of ships. No new training in the Army, and there are other consequences," Hagel said during a town hall meeting with a group of soldiers and civilian employees at Fort Carson, Colo.
" I think you know that your commanders, the chiefs of all the services, combatant commanders, our senior enlisted leaders have been involved in this process, trying to figure out ways that we can comply with the law and the realities of the budget that we're living with without hurting our force structure, without hurting our people, without hurting our readiness, and protecting our combat power, because it is the essence of what we have is that combat power," Hagel told the crowd last week. "But that relies on our people and all of the other components of our operation.
"Furlough is a tough thing, furloughing anybody for any reason. And I want you to know that this is an area that I gave as much attention to as any one thing, as to how do we minimize the downside and the impact of our people?"
Furloughs will save the Pentagon about $3 billion for the remainder of the year, a small portion of the $37 billion sequestration is slated to take from DOD coffers this year. Training, operations and maintenance work will also take hits.
Employees have been bracing for the cuts for months, with original plans calling for as much as 22 days of unpaid leave. That number has dropped, but officials still warn there will be disruptions to services and projects, as well as impacts on local economies. During his speech, Hagel signaled he is still working towards lowering the number of furlough days for this fiscal year but stopped short of making any promises.
"I hope we can do better than the 11 days. We started out with the possibility of having to go to 22 days of furloughing. I made the decision after weeks and weeks and weeks of looking at the budget, the numbers of the comptroller, and all the leaders I've mentioned...that we could get this done with 11 days of furloughs, maybe better, but you need to be told as directly, clearly and honestly as you can what the facts are. And those are the facts."