Defense Department faces flurry of furloughs

While sequestration furloughs will leave almost all civilian Defense Department employees with a 20 percent pay cut over the next two months, the employees’ days without pay will not budge the federal budget, writes Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute at US News.

Some 650,000 of the Pentagon’s civilian employees will be forced to take 11 involuntary days off over the next 11 weeks due to the mandatory spending cuts. Though the Department of Defense must limit the workdays of its current employees, Eaglen writes, the Pentagon may be at fault for steadily increasing its workforce over the past two administrations.

Eaglen argues that “there are simply too many civilians employed…and too little money to go around.” As America’s largest employer, the Pentagon’s civilian workforce has grown annually since Barack Obama took office.

In 2009, President Obama’s first year in office, the number of civilian DoD employees grew by eight percent, despite the recession and subsequent slow recovery. The department has continued to grow at a rate of two to three percent each year since.

Between 2001 and 2012, the civilian workforce grew by 17 percent. Combat forces grew only three percent over that period, which included significant military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Obama has instituted plans to cut active duty forces by seven percent since 2009.

Eaglen notes that while the public seems to recognize that a reduction is necessary, Defense budgets have not presented realistic options. The most recent budget set forth a plan for a five percent reduction in civilian employees, Eaglen reports, but the decrease would result largely from base closures, which Congress is “set to reject.”

In 2010, a Pentagon advisory panel called for a 15 percent reduction in the civilian workforce, which went unheeded. Then-Defense secretary Robert Gates announced plans to keep civilian levels static at 778,000, but this pledge also failed to materialize, according to a recent report from the Washington Times.

The furlough is set to significantly cut pay from most civilian employees, but the 20 percent decrease affects the department’s output as well. Deborah Witherspoon of the National Federation of Federal Employees union said that furloughs will result in repair delays for many systems used in combat, CNN reports.

Eaglen predicts that “Pentagon leaders will be right back where they started” once the furlough period has ended: “Furloughs could become the new normal.”

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