Savings and the ability to reprogram funds made possible today's announcement by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that unpaid furlough days for about 650,000 civilian employees are being reduced.
Hagel signed a memo cutting furlough days for about 650,000 Defense Department civilian employees from 11 to six. This means that for most employees, the furlough will be over Aug. 17.
Effective immediately, furloughs are over for all DOD Education Activity personnel on 10-month contracts -- mostly teachers and support personnel working in the activity's school system -- so the 2013 school year will not be affected, officials said.
In a message announcing the reduction, Hagel said that since he announced the 11-day furlough in May, "Congress has approved most of a large reprogramming request that we submitted, ... giving us the flexibility to move funds across accounts. The military services have been aggressive in identifying ways to hold down costs, and we have been successful in shifting savings ... to meet our highest priority needs."
When Hagel reluctantly decided to impose furloughs in May, the department faced an $11 billion shortfall. The department already had imposed a hiring freeze, cut facility maintenance and laid off temporary employees before making the furlough decision.
The cuts severely affected readiness accounts, with Navy ships not sailing, Air Force squadrons not flying and Army and Marine Corps units not training. Readiness of these units was so endangered that leaders determined that furloughs were the best way to find the last $2 billion in savings needed.
"But even as [Hagel] made the announcement, the secretary said he would try to reduce the number of days without endangering training and maintenance," a senior defense official, speaking on background, told reporters after the memo was issued.
The savings and reprogramming allowed the department to accomplish two goals, he said. First, there were "modest improvements" in training. The Air Force has been able to return squadrons to flying, and the Army has been able to fund organizational training. Second, the department was able to reduce furlough days.
"While this is positive news for the department and for our valued civilian workers, ... we're still facing some major challenges," the senior official said. "Military readiness is degraded heading into 2014. We still need several months and substantial funding to recover. And yet, 2014 is a year that will feature great uncertainty, ... and it may feature some additional austerity."
The budget for fiscal year 2014 is up in the air.
"Secretary Hagel wants to assure our civilian employees that he will do everything possible to avoid imposing furloughs again next year," the official said.
In his memo, Hagel thanked the civilian workforce "for their patience and continued dedication to our mission during these extraordinarily tough times and for their continued service and devotion to our department and our country."