“It’s the idea of shared sacrifice and shared pain, which doesn’t necessarily translate to good policy,” said Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The Navy has said it can make the cuts needed without furloughs, while the Army thinks the war in Afghanistan and other priorities make it nearly impossible to make the cuts without furloughs.
The Pentagon, focused on maintaining rough consistency in furloughs across the department, is trying to figure out how to balance the services’ varied perspectives. It’s likely to authorize military departments and defense agencies to exempt a limited number of mission-critical jobs, officials said.
A bipartisan group of 126 House members wrote last week to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warning that the department’s personnel plans “are threatening to undermine mission performance and, as a result, mission readiness.”
The lawmakers urged that the Pentagon “make merit-based versus indiscriminate decisions on furloughs . . . and that managers be allowed the discretion to make offsetting cuts to comply with sequestration.”
Sens. Susan Collins (R) and Angus King (I) of Maine wrote a similar letter April 17, noting that the defense appropriations bill passed by Congress in March gave the department authority “to make smart budget decisions that are tailored to the unique requirements and budget realities of each military service.”
“If the Department of the Navy or any other DoD component has determined that the costs of furloughs to its readiness and budget are greater than the savings they would produce, they should be able to avoid them,” Collins and King wrote.
The Pentagon already reduced the number of potential furlough days from 22 to 14 and, at the direction of Hagel, has been reviewing whether it can reduce the number further or, far more unlikely, eliminate furloughs.
“We would like to see consistency and fairness, because if we’re gonna have to jump into this pool, we’d like to jump together,” Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale told a congressional panel recently.
Each of the military services faces different budget pressures brought on by sequestration, other cuts to the budget and the costs of overseas operations.
“In the issue of furloughs, you won’t get a one size fits all,” Gen. John Paxton, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, told the Senate Armed Services Committee April 18.
The Navy has said it can find other cuts in its budget to make up the $300 million it would save in furloughing approximately 200,000 Navy and Marine Corps civilians. The service is particularly concerned about 30,000 shipyard workers on nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines. If they are furloughed, the Navy said, vessels will stay at the shipyards longer and costs will increase.