Tuesday, August 06, 2013

TOP STORY >> Civilian layoffs ending on base

Leader senior staff writer

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday announced that mandatory furloughs for about 600 civilian employees at Little Rock Air Force Base and hundreds of thousands throughout the department are being reduced from 11 days this fiscal year to six.

The employees generally worked four days a week instead of five, with a corresponding 20 percent cut in salaries.

Many of those employees already have been furloughed four days, meaning they face only two more reduced-work weeks and checks until the end of this fiscal year in October.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that a new round of furloughs may be necessary in the 2014 fiscal year to help balance the budget, particularly if the sequester remains in place.

According to a transcript of Hagel’s remarks, the number of furloughed days was reduced thanks to savings from careful budgeting because Congress allowed the movement of money from acquisition accounts to day-to-day operating costs and from the furloughs.

“We also sharply cut training and maintenance,” Hagel said. “The Air Force stopped flying in many squadrons, the Navy kept ships in port and the Army cancelled training events. These actions have seriously reduced military readiness.”

“We are also experiencing less-than-expected costs in some areas, such as transportation of equipment out of Afghanistan,” the secretary said. “Where necessary, we have taken aggressive action to transfer funds among services and agencies.”

The department was able “to make up our budgetary shortfall in this fiscal year with fewer furlough days than initially announced.

“This has been one of the most volatile and uncertain budget cycles the Department of Defense has ever experienced. Our fiscal planning has been conducted under a cloud of uncertainty with the imposition of sequestration and changing rules as Congress made adjustments to our spending authorities,” Hagel said.

“As we look ahead to fiscal year 2014, less than two months away, the Department of Defense still faces major fiscal challenges. If Congress does not change the Budget Control Act, (the Defense Department) will be forced to cut an additional $52 billion in FY 2014, starting on Oct. 1,” he said. “This represents 40 percent more than this year’s sequester-mandated cuts of $37 billion. Facing this uncertainty, I cannot be sure what will happen next year, but I want to assure our civilian employees that we will do everything possible to avoid more furloughs.”