Reports the Department of Defense would have to fire as many as 6,300 workers if sequestration continues into 2014 could be just the beginning of a series of long, painful cuts for the Pentagon's already beleaguered non-uniformed workforce.
A Pentagon planning document obtained by Bloomberg News last week said DOD is looking at reductions to its civilian workforce if sequestration isn't reversed before Oct. 1. Losses from sequestration are expected to top $52 billion next year and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has continually said drastic measures - including workforce reductions, cuts to programs and force strength - will take place if that happens.
Gordon Adams, a professor at American University and a former White House budget official during the Clinton administration, told Military.Com he believes the proposal is "the tip of the iceberg" in the process of Pentagon reductions.
"It's an awfully small number," Adams told Military.Com about the layoffs mentioned in the memo. "It needs to be substantially larger; maybe by a factor of five."
The Pentagon has more than 750,000 civilian workers, including about 20,000 in Alabama. The layoffs detailed in the memo represent less than 1 percent of its workforce and may not be enough to meet sequestration-imposed spending limits.
The Pentagon's 2014 budget request of $526.6 billion would be reduced by more than 10 percent if sequestration isn't averted by Oct. 1, according to Bloomberg. Procurement and research spending would lose 16 percent and operations, maintenance and military construction - the account that pays for civilian personnel - would be cut 12 percent.
The 2014 civilian cuts would span most departments. Bloomberg reports 1,500 people would be cut from department-wide agencies with the majority coming from the Defense Contract Management Agency. The Navy would lose 2,700 employees; the Army would cut 2,100 workers and dismiss a thousand contractors.
Cuts to the Air Force are still being determined, according to the memo.
The situation will be even worse if the Pentagon must deal with a decade-long period of funding cuts. If that happens, Hagel said it will require Congressional approval to make some of the needed benefits, retirement and pay changes.
"In many respects, the biggest long-term fiscal challenge facing the department is not the flat or declining top-line budget, it is the growing imbalance in where that money is being spent internally," Hagel said in April. "Left unchecked, spiraling costs to sustain existing structures and institutions, provide benefits to personnel and develop replacements for aging weapons platforms will eventually crowd out spending on procurement, operations and readiness - the budget categories that enable the military to be and stay prepared."
Personnel costs have vexed the Pentagon for years, accounting for more than 40 percent of DOD's budget. With military pay off-limits to sequestration cuts, civilians will bear the brunt of immediate reductions.
That's already happened this year when more than 650,000 DOD civilians were forced to take six furlough days, with original plans calling for 22 days of leave before that number dropped to 11 and then eventually to six. The six days of furlough saved DOD about $1 billion.
Pentagon officials said they are not planning on furloughs in 2014. Instead, it will have to opt for more permanent reductions.
"We can't rule out RIFs and involuntary separations if there's sequester in (2014)," Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in early August. "We don't know what our budget is, so we're not in a position to make final decisions about what we're going to do. That is extremely frustrating to us, and I know it's very frustrating to people and their families."