The forced spending cut regimen of the sequester is starting to have effects, even if its impact on the bloated budget is minimal at best. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said yesterday that the Pentagon will reduce the number of forced furlough days workers will take from 11 to six.
The official memo written by Hagel reads, “Thanks to the DoD’s efforts to identify savings and help from Congress, we will reduce the total numbers of furlough days for DoD civilian employees… I want to thank our civilian workforce for their patience and continued dedication to our mission during these extraordinarily tough times… I regret the difficulties they and their families had to face during this furlough period.”
The 11 furlough days were expected to save about $2 billion; however, the Pentagon has already been feeling the heat, with officials reporting phone calls going unanswered, deadlines that may be impossible to meet, and financial analysis going unperformed. Because doctors and nurses are included in the forced furloughs, delays in surgical procedures and vaccinations for newborns are frequent.
The AP was told by defense officials that their workforce has been demoralized, and that the sequester has caused financial uncertainties that have consequently affected our soldiers’ abilities to be prepared for imminent danger. Many of the workers whose pay was affected complained directly to Hagel when he visited their bases of employment.
The American Federation of Government Employees praised the decision, with president J. David Cox saying to the Washington Post that “Department of Defense furloughs were always the worst possible way for the department to absorb sequestration’s cuts… The secretary’s announcement suggests that he has finally realized that furloughs are costly in terms of dollars, readiness and morale.”
Since early July, the Department of Defense has required that its civilian workers take 1 unpaid day off a week. The program has saved about $1.5 billion, but that money has already been reallocated towards buying back five of the lost furlough days, with the rest going towards Army brigade training and Air Force flight training.
Laws enacted in 2011 are responsible for the pressures on government organizations to pinch pennies and create a decade-long savings of $1.2 trillion. The Pentagon itself faces $500 billion in cuts during that decade, and the fiscal year of 2014 would need to lose $54 billion from currently projected spending.