Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced plans Tuesday afternoon to reduce the number of furlough days faced by the department’s 800,000 civilian workers from 14 days to 11 days beginning in June.
About 120,000 employees will be exempt from the forced unpaid leave, officials said.
Hagel also discussed exemptions that the department has agreed to allow for some workers during a town hall meeting at the MARK Center in Alexandria, home to about 6,400 Defense employees.
Hagel told the audience of several hundred Defense employees that up to 11 days of furloughs will begin July 8. “We did everything we could not to get to this day,” he said.
Not all of the department’s 800,000 civilian workers face furlough. About 68,000 employees, including more than 29,000 Navy shipyard workers, will be exempted from furlough because of the critical nature of their work, according to a memo from the secretary. Another 50,000 foreign workers are exempt from furlough by law.
Hagel said the department will continue to assess its financial state as the year continues, and said some of the 11 days of furlough could be cut if the situation brightens.
But when asked by an employee at the town hall whether workers could face furloughs next year as well, Hagel could offer no assurances.
“I can’t guarantee you that we won’t be in some kind of similar situation next year,” he said
Although many federal agencies have decided they can meet the automatic cuts mandated by the sequester without furloughs, the Defense Department has decided they are unavoidable.
The Pentagon has already reduced the length of furloughs from the initial plans for 22 days, and at Hagel’s direction, had been examining whether the number could be cut further or even eliminated, as some hoped. But the department concluded that it could not make mandated cuts from sequestration without the 11 days of furloughs, officials said.
The planned reduction was first reported by the Associated Press.
The Pentagon has sought to maintain rough consistency in furloughs across the department while balancing competing needs of the military services.
Included among those expected to be exempted are some shipyard workers that the Navy argued needed to be kept on the job to avoid costly delays on nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines.