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Air Force sets policy for expected furloughs

Air Force policy on the expected furloughs of civilian employees allows for some discretion over who would be affected, but such exceptions would be rare and would have to be approved at high levels.

The memo, issued last week internally but not publicly released by the Air Force, in many ways mirrors one the Army released this week that also provides for few exceptions from sequestration-triggered unpaid days off.

Since the memos were written, the Defense Department has delayed until April 5 issuing formal notices that give employees 30 days of notice before furloughs could start. That decision followed congressional passage of a bill that shifts more of the department’s budget toward current operations for the remainder of the current fiscal year, through September. The Pentagon Thursday said it still expects to furlough civilian employees during that period but may not need to order all of the 22 days it earlier had been projecting.

Like the Army policy, the Air Force memo exempts certain categories of employees, including those assigned to combat zones, those not paid through regular appropriations, and foreign nationals.

The Air Force policy also outlines other possible exceptions but emphasizes that they are to be “very few” and that the decision cannot be made below certain very senior levels.

Exceptions could be allowed for positions necessary to provide safety of life or property but even then only to a limited extent. Such positions might include those held by certain health professionals or technicians who provide 24-hour emergency care or inpatient care, first responders, and similar security positions.

Also like the Army policy, the Air Force memo orders a general ban on overtime work, whether employees are paid or given compensatory time off in return, with similar limited exceptions for safety needs.

“You may not request the furloughed employee work overtime nor may you ask another civilian who is not furloughed to compensate for the furloughed employee’s lost productivity by working overtime,” the memo told Air Force components.

In addition, it says that while “must move” transfers of employees can continue, those that are discretionary “will be significantly reduced as a result of sequestration.”

Like the Army, the Air Force is one of the largest federal agencies, with about 172,000 civilian employees at the end of 2012.