Pentagon officials said they are examining every way possible to lower the number of furlough days for civilian employees but maintain a final decision on cutting the amount of unpaid leave has not been made.
The AP reported last week the Pentagon was preparing to cut three to six days from the original 11 planned for 650,000 civilian workers. Furloughs began July 8 and most workers are set to take one day of unpaid leave through the rest of the fiscal year in an effort to save $1.8 billion, a fraction of the $32 billion sequestration is cutting from Department of Defense coffers this year.
Citing unnamed sources, the AP report said if Pentagon officials can find $500 million in savings, the number of furlough days will be lowered to eight. It will be lowered to six if $900 million in savings can be located.
DOD employees have already taken four days of unpaid leave, meaning they could face only two more if the savings can be found.
However, Pentagon spokesman told American Forces Press Service last week that "no decisions have been made at this time," regarding any furlough changes.
The furloughs are necessary, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said, in order to preserve "the readiness of the force to accomplish the department's mission to ensure...national security."
While stopping short of confirming the cuts to furlough days, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter told members of a House Armed Services Committee last week the department is still working to find a way to ease the burden on the civilian workforce.
"We're looking in every way as we reach the end of the fiscal year (asking ourselves), 'Can we find money somewhere?'" Carter said.
If money can be found, the first thing to be restored to pre-sequestration levels would be maintenance. The second, he said, would be personnel.
"If we do find funds between now and the end of the year, we have two priorities. One is to restore maintenance and the other is to relax furloughs," Carter said, adding furloughs are "not a joke."
"It is very serious and no way to treat people," he said.
Even if furlough days are cut this year, Carter warned of a worsening situation in 2014 if sequestration isn't repealed. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said layoffs would accompany furloughs if Congress can't reach a deal to prevent $52 billion in cuts in the coming year.
"It goes beyond (furloughs) to the possibility of (reductions in force)," Carter said. "It goes beyond ...it goes to the possibility of even voluntary separations of service members because it just gets worse and worse and worse over time."