On Furloughs, the Navy and Marine Corps Have Another Option

The Navy and Marine Corps don’t have to furlough civilians to balance their budgets, potentially putting the services at odds with the rest of the Pentagon. For months, the Defense Department and the services have been in lockstep on how they each must use furloughs to help balance their shrinking budgets. Under the proposal first ...

Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The Navy and Marine Corps don’t have to furlough civilians to balance their budgets, potentially putting the services at odds with the rest of the Pentagon.

For months, the Defense Department and the services have been in lockstep on how they each must use furloughs to help balance their shrinking budgets. Under the proposal first floated by then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, as many as 800,000 DOD civilians would be forced on unpaid leave between now and October, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. But now, the Navy is trying to find a solution to get to zero furlough days, as first reported in the Situation Report.

Unlike the Army and the Air Force, the Navy says it has other ways to cut the roughly $300 million in expenditures it would save by furloughing its 201,000 civilian workers. But this isn’t all budgetary altruism on the Navy’s part: officials believe the cost of forcing unpaid leave on civilian workers, many of whom perform shipyard maintenance and other critical jobs, would be far greater over the long term than the savings they’d realize by sending them home. The Navy, an official said, has a math problem it can’t ignore.

The Navy and Marine Corps don’t have to furlough civilians to balance their budgets, potentially putting the services at odds with the rest of the Pentagon.

For months, the Defense Department and the services have been in lockstep on how they each must use furloughs to help balance their shrinking budgets. Under the proposal first floated by then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, as many as 800,000 DOD civilians would be forced on unpaid leave between now and October, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. But now, the Navy is trying to find a solution to get to zero furlough days, as first reported in the Situation Report.

Unlike the Army and the Air Force, the Navy says it has other ways to cut the roughly $300 million in expenditures it would save by furloughing its 201,000 civilian workers. But this isn’t all budgetary altruism on the Navy’s part: officials believe the cost of forcing unpaid leave on civilian workers, many of whom perform shipyard maintenance and other critical jobs, would be far greater over the long term than the savings they’d realize by sending them home. The Navy, an official said, has a math problem it can’t ignore.

“The Navy is prepared to follow OSD policy, which currently calls for 14 days of furlough beginning [in June], however, the Navy is pursuing an option to realize the $300 million in savings in other areas because the long-term costs of furlough is far more than the savings they’d realize in the short-term.”

The Navy official said the “dialogue” between the services and OSD continues. “All involved are working toward a solution that makes the most sense both in terms of fiscal realities and the toll this takes on personnel.”

Still, the revelation puts the Navy at odds with the Pentagon’s head shed, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which believes all the services, regardless of the budgetary circumstances in which they find themselves, must all pull together. Even if the Navy and Marine Corps could absorb budget cuts without furloughing their civilians, the Pentagon wants to spread the pain equally.

“There remains a desire for consistency across the department,” a defense official told the E-Ring. “One department, one DOD family… There has to be fairness on this and on other categories of the budget,” the official said.

The Pentagon’s original plan was to furlough as many as 800,000 employees for as many as 22 days. It announced recently that it could cut that down to 14 days. But the defense official said the whole furlough initiative is being examined, and those 14 days could be reduced. Time is running out, however, since furloughs would begin in June and those affected must be notified weeks in advance.

“The furlough policy remains very much under review,” the official said.

Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

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