Pentagon shrinks furlough time for sub base workers

Washington – Hundreds of civilian workers at Naval Submarine Base New London will get a break from forced unpaid leave, but not much of one.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday said he would cut back – from 14 to 11 — the number of furlough days civilians working for the Pentagon must take this summer. The furloughs arefu mandated by the sequester, or recent across-the-board cuts to the federal budget.

“Today’s development… is small progress for workers and their families, but 11 furlough days are still an unacceptable way to balance the budget,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who represents the submarine base.

Many of Naval Submarine Base New London’s 1,300 civilian employees will begin taking unpaid leave beginning July 8. But a group of them are exempt under the Navy’s furlough policy. 

About 450 submarine base employees are paid by money that was not appropriated by Congress and therefore not subject to the sequester or to furloughs.

A smaller group of civilian workers, responsible for security on the base, are also exempt.

The Navy also exempted shipyard workers, but none of the civilian workers on the submarine base are considered shipyard workers.

At one point, the Pentagon expected to furlough its civilian employees for 22 days.

But Congress approved a bill that gave the Pentagon the ability to move money around to cover priorities.

Even so, Hagel said in a memo to Pentagon officials that it will be hard to meet the civilian workforce payroll this summer.

“Combined with higher than expected wartime operating costs, we are now short more than $30 billion in our operation and maintenance (O&M) accounts — which are the funds that we use to pay most civilian employees, maintain our military readiness, and respond to global contingencies.”

Hagel said, however, that he’ll continue to look for savings elsewhere to spare civilian workers from furloughs.

“If we can do better and we get through the front end of this, then we might be in a position to knock that back,” he said to a group of civilian workers in Virginia on Tuesday. “I can’t promise that. You deserve fair, honest conversation about that. I’m not going to be cute about this.”

Christopher Zendan, the submarine base’s spokesman, said “pending furloughs certainly impact morale.”

“But we continue to do our best,” he added.