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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Furlough cut short for fort employees

  • Fort Leavenworth might seem a little more lively on Fridays soon following the decision of the Department of Defense this week to reduce the number of what has come to be known as “Furlough Fridays” for its civilian employees.
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  • Fort Leavenworth might seem a little more lively on Fridays soon following the decision of the Department of Defense this week to reduce the number of what has come to be known as “Furlough Fridays” for its civilian employees.
    The announcement from the DOD came Tuesday and Fort Leavenworth spokesman Scott Gibson said the result will be only two more unpaid Fridays off ― the last being Aug. 16 ― for most of the more than 2,600 civilian DOD employees at Fort Leavenworth.
    The furloughs were announced as a potential budget-cutting measure shortly after federal across-the-board budget cuts called the “sequester” took effect at the beginning of March, with 22 furlough days considered at that time. Between then and July 12 when the unpaid Fridays off began, that number had been reduced to 11.
    The measure has resulted in some offices or storefronts on the fort either staffed with only uniformed employees or closed entirely each Friday.
    Gibson said for the most part, the furloughed workforce have been understanding during the period those measures have been in place.
    “They've worked as a team to minimize the effect on our soldiers, our retirees and our family members,” he said.
    The furloughs were triggered by the Budget Control Act of 2011 passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. The act, designed to bring all sides of the debt ceiling debate to the bargaining table to hash out a compromise deal to reduce spending and deficits, came with a stipulation that unless Congress enacted a replacement, arbitrary, across-the-board spending cuts would take affect for remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, through the end of September.
    That deal never materialized, meaning most federal departments had to find ways to reduce costs.
    As initially designed, Gibson said the furloughs would result in an average pay cut of 20 percent for those affected during that time period. For civilian employees, Gibson said the announcement Tuesday means giving up 48 hours of pay instead of 88 as originally planned.
    “That in itself is good news,” although he added that is not to diminish the sacrifices those employees have made.
    According to the announcement on the reduction in furloughs announced by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this week, the Department of Defense was dealt about $37 billion of those cuts for this year. But he said the plan had always been to reduce the required furloughs if possible.
    “With the end of the fiscal year next month, managers across the DoD are making final decisions necessary to ensure we make the $37 billion spending cuts mandated by sequestration, while also doing everything possible to limit damage to military readiness and our workforce,” Hagel said in his announcement.
    The U.S. Representative for the 2nd District that includes Fort Leavenworth, Republican Lynn Jenkins, praised Hagel's decision in a statement.
    Page 2 of 2 - “The Department of Defense’s announcement to reduce furlough days for civilian employees is welcome news and something I have been advocating they do. While these civilians may not serve in uniform, they provide critical support for our warfighters,” Jenkins said. “We must address the real problem, which is Washington’s out-of-control spending and unsustainable mandatory programs, instead of singling out hardworking Americans to carry the burden of our debt problem.”
    It might not be the end of such measures. In Hagel's comments on the reduction in furloughs for 2013, he recognized staying on the current course would mean an additional $52 billion in needed cuts. As September comes closer, Gibson said there has been no guidance issued yet on how, or if, the fort's leadership will have to require additional cost-cutting measures next fiscal year.
    “We just don't know what we don't know right now,” he said. “If we don't have some movement in the area of sequestration, we could be right back where we are now, looking at furloughs and other cutbacks next fiscal year.”
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