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Pentagon delays furlough notices

Thousands of Wright-Patterson civilian employees received a temporary reprieve when the Pentagon pushed back sending furlough notices by two weeks to allow time to review how pending budget legislation would impact the Department of Defense budget.

The last-minute change was announced Thursday, one day before 13,000 Wright-Patterson civilian workers were to start receiving notices of 22-day furloughs set to begin on or after April 26. Notices are now scheduled to be sent around April 5, according to the Pentagon.

Col. Cassie B. Barlow, Wright-Patterson base commander at the 88th Air Base Wing, said the Defense Department has said furloughs would be a “last resort.”

“There is no question furloughs would adversely affect economies in the communities where our civilians live and work and we are guardedly optimistic our leaders will find a resolution to this problem,” she said in a statement Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said he was hopeful the additional time would give the parties an opportunity to address automatic budget cuts known as sequestration falling on defense spending. The initial cuts to the Pentagon’s budget are estimated at $43 billion between now and September.

“This is certainly good news that the Department of Defense is beginning to re-evaluate the manner in which it implements sequestration,” said Turner, chairman of the House Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee. “We have a very short time for the sequestration cuts to be set aside. … This on again, off again uncertainty is really unfair to the men and women who work for our military.”

Up to 10 percent of the Defense Department’s civilian workforce could be exempt from the furloughs, the Associated Press reported.

Troy Tingey, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 214, which represents thousands of Wright-Patterson workers, said the union would attempt to push back any furloughs start dates at least two weeks. He expressed doubt the latest delay would help workers.

“It’s the same as they have been (kicking) the budget can down the road,” he said. “Now they are just going to kick the furlough notices down the road. People need to know what’s going on so they can start making plans.”

The Defense Department notified U.S. Senate offices Thursday about its decision before putting out a release on their website just hours after the House passed a final version of the spending bill, which will keep the government operating for the next six months.

Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde said the department still anticipates civilian employees will face 22 furlough days, but that could change, depending on the impact of the bill.

By law, the Defense Department has to notify people 30 days prior to the first furlough day, Hull-Ryde said.

“Based on the plan up until today, it was likely that those notices were going out tomorrow,” she said Thursday. “Because of the continuing resolution, we’re going to take the time to analyze what does this mean to the department. After we’ve had the chance to analyze it, then we will decide what steps we need to take.”

She said she anticipated that analysis time would take “a couple of weeks.”

“This does not eradicate the furlough,” she said.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little called the delay “a responsible step to take in order to assure our civilian employees that we do not take lightly the prospect of furloughs and the resulting decrease in employee pay.” The furlough, as planned would cost civilian Defense employees some 20 percent of their pay.

Nothing in the continuing resolution specifically delayed furloughs, but the bill was aimed at providing the Pentagon more flexibility in its cuts.

The bill has yet to be signed into law. Congress also restored funding for college tuition assistance for active-duty service members in the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps.

Staff writer Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.

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