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Pentagon furloughs to be cut back to 11 days per civilian worker

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(AP/ABC7) Sequestration officially hit the Pentagon more than two months ago, but the question of "why" still lingers on.

The furloughs of 800,000 defense department employees is sure to slow his business and so many others. Civilian workers will have to take 11 unpaid days between July 8th and October 1.

"I understand that the decision to impose furloughs imposes financial burdens on our valued employees, harms overall morale and corrodes the long-term ability of the department to carry out the national defense mission," Deparrtment of Defense head Chuck Hagel said in the memo. "I deeply regret this decision."

Congressionally mandated automatic budget cuts initially forced the Pentagon to warn that the bulk of its 800,000 civilians would be forced to take 22 unpaid days off - one in each of the last 22 weeks of the fiscal year. When lawmakers approved a new spending bill at the end of March, they gave the Pentagon greater latitude to find savings, and the furlough days were cut to 14.

Under pressure from military leaders and members of Congress, the Pentagon will allow the Navy to avoid furloughs for tens of thousands of workers at shipyards. Civilians make up the bulk of the workforce at those facilities and are key to keeping production lines going and preventing major backlogs in the repairs of ships and combat vehicles.

For restaurants like Cantina Mexicana in Crystal City, that will mean a lot of empty chairs this spring and summer.

"We're just gonna have to weather the storm and hope customers come in,” said the restaurant’s manager.

Also exempted from the furloughs will be civilian intelligence workers in the National Intelligence Program - largely the CIA. But civilians funded in the Military Intelligence Program will be subject to the unpaid days off. Those would include workers in military intelligence agencies such as Special Operations Command and the Army, Air Force and Navy intelligence offices.

Other exempt workers include civilians in the war zone and in critical public safety jobs, as well as people whose jobs are not paid for through congressional funding. As an example, some employees may be contractors or people working in facilities that pay for operations out of their earnings - such as some jobs in recreation or foreign military sales. Overall, defense officials say that about 15 percent of the department's civilian workforce will be exempt from the furloughs.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing deliberations.

Defense and military officials have been debating for weeks how to divide up the $7.5 billion-plus it now has the authority to shift from lower priority accounts to more vital operations and maintenance programs. While some argued to use the money to reduce or eliminate furlough days, others said it should be directed at other priorities, including flight and combat training and the massive effort to bring tons of equipment out of Afghanistan.

The Defense Department received authority from Congress to shift about $7.5 billion, and officials said the department has been able to identify at least another $1 billion that can be moved in smaller increments from other accounts and doesn't require congressional approval.

Early on, Navy officials said they thought they may get authority to move as much as $750 million into operations and maintenance accounts, and top leaders pressed for the ability to use the money to eliminate the need to furlough any of their 200,000 naval civilians.

Other military and defense leaders, however, argued for a "one team, one fight" process, insisting that all military civilians should be treated the same and given equal days off without pay.

The Air Force and Army also wanted to use some of the money to fund other priorities that more directly impact their ability to give soldiers and airmen the training and equipment they need to fight. The Air Force wants to restart training flights for units that were grounded due to budget cuts, and the Army wants to restore combat training that has been delayed for some of its troops.

The Army, which is the largest service and has been carrying the bulk of the burden for the war in Afghanistan, also is facing massive bills for the removal of equipment from Afghanistan.

Defense officials said it will cost the military between $5 billion and $7 billion to get the trucks, armored vehicles and other equipment out of the war zone, and either bring it home, transfer it to other allies or destroy it so that technologies won't be compromised.

Because the vast majority of the equipment belongs to the Army, service officials made it clear that those expenses would eat up most of the funding and make it difficult to find any money to cut the number of furlough days for its 330,000 civilians.

According to officials, as much as $5 billion of the reprogrammed money may be allocated to the Army, leaving the other services with less than they had wanted.

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