House acts to block DoD furloughs, but not right away

The House has passed a series of amendments to stop furloughs of Defense Department employees, although the language is aimed at the fiscal year that starts in October, not at the currently ongoing furloughs.

One of the amendments would broadly prohibit the use of money in the bill under consideration—the annual defense appropriations measure—from implementing sequestration-related furloughs. A second would block furloughs of employees who are paid from a “working capital fund” that does not receive direct funding from appropriations but rather from fees generated by the goods and services sold to other government components. A third would similarly specifically bar furloughs of “dual status” military technicians—federal employees who must also be members of the National Guard or Reserves.

(FILES) This December 26, 2011 file photo shows the Pentagon building in Washington, DC. Despite heated campaign rhetoric, US President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney mostly share common ground on national security issues but they are sharply at odds over the defense budget.     AFP PHOTO/FILESSTAFF/AFP/Getty Images

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The amendments were passed late on Tuesday into early Wednesday morning. Voting is continuing on the appropriations measure Wednesday, including on a fourth amendment that would shift money from an Afghanistan security forces fund to civilian federal employee salary accounts.

“Today’s vote shows there is overwhelming support in the House to halt civilian defense furloughs. This amendment is a first step toward restoring sanity to the Defense budget and restoring pay to our nation’s civilian defense workers,” Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), sponsor of the broadest amendment, said in a statement.

Because the spending bill affects only the upcoming fiscal year, however, it apparently would provide no relief in the short run to the roughly 650,000 civilian DoD employees who recently began taking 11 unpaid furlough days through the end of September.

Pentagon officials have warned that if the department’s budget continues in fiscal 2014 at post-sequestration levels, they may have to order further furloughs and potentially even layoffs.

Approval of the broad amendment is “a strong vote of no confidence” in how the department has used furloughs to achieve sequestration savings, American Federation of Government Employees president J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement. He added, “We’ve seen little evidence that Pentagon officials intend to use furloughs differently” in the upcoming fiscal year.

Further, he said, furloughs of working capital fund employees “save no money for the Department for purposes of sequestration, yet they do drive up their organizations’ costs and undermine their productivity.”

The union lobbied on behalf of both amendments, which do not repeal sequestration nor specify how the Pentagon should achieve the required savings in other ways.

 

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