Starting in early May, thousands of civilian employees at Fort Gordon will begin to receive notices informing them that they can expect two weeks’ less pay over the summer.
Beyond that, little about what the slips might say is known.
In a statement released this week, representatives at the Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office said they have received no “official word” from the U.S. Department of Defense on how or when furloughs might be implemented.
“As decisions are made at the national level, it takes time for specific guidance to reach our installation,” post spokesman J.C. Matthews said. “In the meantime, we are watching developments very closely, and we’re doing what we can to keep the workforce informed as the situation continues to unfold.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced almost a week ago that the Pentagon had managed to reduce from 22 to 14 the number of unpaid work days about 700,000 civilian employees would have to take by September.
Fort Gordon officials said they expect the furloughs to affect the “vast majority of the approximately 3,100 Army federal civilian employees” it has on staff, but Department of Defense officials say they are still working to determine which employees might be exempted as they search for ways to fill a $41 billion hole in the department’s budget.
Either way, Fort Gordon leaders said they were happy to hear Hagel’s good news. Many employees had started to prepare for what could have amounted to a 20 percent cut in pay spread over five months.
Now, the Department of Defense said, the furloughs would probably start around the third week of June, with one unpaid day off each week through late September.
The change follows congressional approval last week of a defense appropriations bill that prevented an additional $6 billion in cuts, ordered under sequestration, from taking effect.
But despite a congressional reprieve, Hagel said on the Department of Defense Web site that the Pentagon is still going to be short at least $22 billion for operations and maintenance, “and that means we are going to have to prioritize and make some cuts and do what we’ve got to do,” including making sharp reductions in base support and training for non-deployed units.
More critical in the long run, he said, is how budget cuts will affect readiness and the department’s overall mission. Because of that concern, he said, he has directed Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to conduct an intensive department-wide review of U.S. strategic interests, including how to protect the nation with fewer resources.
“There will be some significant changes; there’s no way around it,” Hagel said.
Dempsey said the department has already exhausted 80 percent of its operating funds halfway through the fiscal year and characterized the current budget situation as “not the deepest, but the steepest decline in our budget ever.” He warned that it will affect military readiness into the future.
“We will have to trade at some level and to some degree our future readiness for current operations,” the chairman said. He called on elected leaders to give the Pentagon the budget flexibility it needs to carry out institutional reforms.
“We can’t afford excess equipment,” Dempsey said. “We can’t afford excess facilities. We have to reform how we buy weapons and services. We have to reduce redundancy. And we’ve got to change, at some level, our compensation structure.”