Pentagon notifies Congress of likely furloughs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress on Wednesday that if automatic government spending cuts kick in on March 1 he may have to shorten the workweek for the “vast majority” of the Defense Department’s 800,000 civilian workers.

They would lose one day of work per week, or 20 percent of their pay, for up to 22 weeks, probably starting in late April.

To dispel the notion that this is mainly a problem for the nation’s capital, the Pentagon’s budget chief, Robert Hale, told reporters that the economic impact would be felt nationwide. The biggest potential losses, in term of total civilian payroll dollars, would be in Virginia, California, Maryland, Texas and Georgia, according to figures provided by the Pentagon.

Hale said the unpaid leaves for civilian workers would begin in late April and would save $4 billion to $5 billion if extended through the end of the budget year, Sept. 30. That is only a fraction of the $46 billion the Pentagon would have to cut this budget year unless a deficit-reduction deal is reached.

Panetta also said the across-the-board spending reductions would “put us on a path toward a hollow force,” meaning a military incapable of fulfilling all of its missions.

In a written message to employees, Panetta said that he notified members of Congress Wednesday that if the White House and Congress cannot strike a deficit reduction deal before March 1 to avoid the furloughs, all affected workers will get at least 30 days’ advance notice.

“In the event of sequestration we will do everything we can to be able to continue to perform our core mission of providing for the security of the United States, but there is no mistaking that the rigid nature of the cuts forced upon this department, and their scale, will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force,” Panetta wrote.

House Speaker John Boehner put the blame on Obama and said he agrees with Panetta that automatic spending cuts would devastate the military.

Boehner released a copy of Panetta’s letter formally notifying Congress that the Pentagon will have to consider furloughing a large portion of its civilian workforce if sequestration kicks in.

“The furloughs contemplated by this notice will do real harm to our national security,” Panetta wrote in his congressional notification letter, adding that it would make troops less ready for combat and slow the acquisition of important weapons.

“Overall, sequestration will put us on a path toward a hollow force and inflict serious damage on our national security,” Panetta wrote.

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