Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to decide early next week on across-the-board furloughs for civilian personnel to save $2.5 billion against pushback from the Navy and bitter opposition from public sector unions, Pentagon officials said Friday.
Hagel was meeting with senior Defense Department managers through the weekend and "we expect a decision to come very soon" on the proposed one day per week furloughs for more than 700,000 Defense Department civilians for the current fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, said George Little, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman.
Under civil service rules, notices on the furloughs would have to go out next week to allow the furloughs to begin in mid-June.
Little declined to say whether Hagel would give the services leeway to decide on whether to implement the furloughs based on their budgets. The Navy has argued against furloughs for its 201,000 civilian personnel.
In a briefing to introduce the proposed Navy spending plan last month, Rear Adm. Joe Mulloy, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Budget, said that imposing the furloughs would incur more costs than they were worth in terms of savings.
"Our issue on furlough is to get down to zero or get support and push that way, because we have a dramatic impact on our equipment and our readiness at furlough in the Navy and Marine Corps," Malloy said.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta planned to furlough civilian personnel for 22 days, freeze hiring and cancel the contracts of temporary and term employees to meet the budget-cutting demands of sequestration.
Hagel said that a subsequent stopgap spending measure approved by Congress would allow the number of furlough days to be reduced to 14, and there has been speculation that furlough days might be cut to seven.
Last week, 126 House members from both parties sent a letter to Hagel arguing against across-the-board furloughs and urging him to allow the services to decide on whether they should be imposed.
In his response to the House letter, Hagel wrote that "in re-allocating resources throughout the Department to the highest national security priorities, we will strive for consistency and fairness across the Department."
The furloughs, and the across-the-board method for implementing them, have been opposed by the American Federation of Government Employes.
"Such an arbitrary approach neither promotes national security nor fairness," AFGE President J. David Cox wrote to Hagel in an April 30 letter.
Cox charged that the furlous will increase costs, reduce productivity, and undermine readiness.
"Components and agencies should clearly not be forced to take the same number of furlough days. If components or agencies have come up with offsetting sequestration cuts or generate their own revenues, they should not be required to impose furloughs," Cox wrote in the letter.