The announcement, which comes as more than 3,000 workers at Fort Gordon begin their fourth week of an 11-day furlough, quiets widespread speculation that a 20 percent pay cut required of all workers to fill a $37 million budget shortfall could end soon.
Citing unnamed sources, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Pentagon leaders are scrimping to find up to $900 million in savings in the final months of the budget year that ends Sept. 30 to reduce civilian furloughs to six to eight days of unpaid leave.
Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman with the Pentagon, said this week that no decisions have been made on the furloughs.
Christensen added that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reluctantly made the decision to furlough the civilian workforce, starting July 8, and that Hagel “recognizes the significant hardship this places on DoD civilians and their families.”
If it becomes official, the easing would follow a trend that began in spring, when more than 640,000 civilian employees were told they likely would have to take 14 days of unpaid leave instead of the original estimate of 22 days, due to the Budget Control Act of 2011, which mandated significant cuts in the fiscal 2013 defense budget.
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a defense spending bill for the 2014 fiscal year that seeks to reverse the most severe impacts of the across-the-board budget cuts on the armed forces by adding nearly $4.5 billion to cover shortfalls in military training and equipment maintenance programs.
The bill, which provides just over $594 billion in spending for the military, with close to $78 billion of the total for the war in Afghanistan, authorized a 1 percent pay raise for military personnel and Defense Department civilian employees.
The legislation is expected to go up for a full vote before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.
The House of Representatives last week passed a $598.3 billion defense spending bill for 2014 by a vote of 315-109. The House bill would provide the Pentagon with $512.5 billion for weapons, personnel, aircraft and ships plus $85.8 billion for Afghanistan war operations.
The House’s spending bill included an amendment introduced by Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., to keep Fort Gordon’s civilian workforce from facing a furlough during fiscal year 2014 that would cut employee pay by 5 percent starting in October.
However, the District 12 Democratic congressman from Augusta continues to work on Bill 2613, which would end the 11 days of unpaid leave the Pentagon is forcing more than 3,000 workers at Fort Gordon to take by the end of September to help save $1.8 billion in the Department of Defense’s budget.
“Nothing has been confirmed,” Barrow’s press secretary Richard Carbo said of a possible vote on the legislation. “It’s all just speculation at this point. We haven’t received any formal notification.”
If Congress and the White House cannot agree on a plan to undo sequestration, the Pentagon will have to slice $52 billion from its budget for the 2014 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.