Army would allow few exceptions to furloughs

March 21, 2013

The Army plans to allow only narrow exceptions to furloughs of its civilian employees and will neither put them on overtime nor shift work to contractors to make up for the lost work time.

A memo issued Wednesday provides one of the first detailed descriptions by a federal agency regarding how sequestration-triggered furloughs would be carried out. The Army is one of the government’s largest agencies, with some 276,000 civilian employees as of year-end 2012.

Employees assigned to combat zones are to be excepted from forced unpaid days off, as are those not paid directly through regular defense appropriations. These include “non-appropriated fund” operations such as officers’ clubs that are self-supporting, employees working under certain intelligence-related funds, and others paid through various other special funds.

Also to be exempt are top political appointees who are not covered by regular federal leave policies. Further, foreign national employees working at overseas Department of Defense facilities are excluded because of the agreements between the United States and the host countries.

Meanwhile, officials would have authority to call furloughed employees back to work if they are needed “to prevent unacceptable risk or catastrophic gaps in the safety and protection of life and property.”

The memo was issued a day before Congress on Thursday passed continued funding for the remainder of the current fiscal year, a measure that shifted funding among some defense accounts, including those paying for general operating expenses. The Pentagon afterward announced that it was delaying issuing furlough notices until April 5 while it reviewed the impact. The department said that while it might not order the full 22 days it had been projecting, it still expects to impose furlough days.

The memo says that once furloughs start, Army components “may not transfer any work from Army civilians to contractors or use premium pay (overtime or compensatory time off) to offset federal employee absence due to furlough. Organizations are reminded that furloughed employees are prohibited from working on-site or on a telework basis on furlough days, and furloughed employees may not substitute paid leave or other time off for furlough time.”

The memo further generally prohibits any overtime work, whether as paid time or compensatory time, through the end of September. It allows exceptions to protect health, safety or security or to perform other critical functions and states that components must comply with any bargaining requirements related to changing overtime practices.

Other topics in the memo issued by the Army’s manpower office include how the Army is to handle responses that employees may file after receiving furlough notices. Furloughed federal employees are entitled to review agency documentation and receive a formal reply from the agency.

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Lisa Rein | March 21, 2013