AFGE: 126 Lawmakers Protest Pentagon Civilian Furloughs

WASHINGTON —Some 126 lawmakers, led by the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, formally protested the Pentagon’s plan to furlough all civilian workers for 14 days each between now and Sept. 30, the American Federation of Government Employees reported.

The furloughs, mandated by the “sequester” which cut billions of dollars in defense spending, hit all units equally even though some could absorb cuts without having to lay off the workers one day every two weeks, the lawmakers said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the furloughs, which originally were going to last 22 days, after sequestration – the congressionally mandated budget cutting jammed through last year by the House GOP majority – began on April 1.

The sequester’s impact was also immediately felt at the Federal Aviation Administration, which had to lay off 10% of the nation’s 15,000 air traffic controllers, represented by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, immediately. The layoffs produced long lines and longer flight delays at major East Coast and Midwest airports – and howls from Capitol Hill.

“The Pentagon’s policy seems to reward services and agencies that did not downsize their civilian staffs in prior years, as directed by the department, while exacting punishing reductions,” on those that did,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the top Armed Services Democrat, and the other lawmakers wrote Hagel.

“Rather than applying furloughs and other personnel actions across the board, the Pentagon should give managers the discretion to make offsetting cuts in other areas as they see fit,” Smith wrote. “It is increasingly clear these actions are threatening to undermine mission performance and, as a result, mission readiness.”

The uneven affect of the sequester also appeared at the naval air station in China Lake, Calif. Teamsters Local 166 Secretary-Treasurer Mike Bergen told the Southern California Teamster that “officers and guards” in its police department “were granted waivers from the furloughs.” Other civilian China Lake workers were not.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which discussed the letter with Smith and helped gather lawmakers’ signatures, hailed the action. AFGE represents 270,000 civilian Defense Department workers. Not all are union members.

“We are heartened that so many lawmakers are going on record with their support for the work that civilian employees do,” AFGE President J. David Cox said. “Our civilian employees are vital to ensuring the safety and security of the military
mission, and the Pentagon needs to stop targeting civilian personnel. Furloughing any employee is bad policy on its face, but requiring blanket furloughs across the department is downright ludicrous.”