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Pentagon notifies Congress of likely furloughs

By Robert Burns

AP National Security Writer

LAST UPDATED: 05:06 p.m. HST, Feb 20, 2013

WASHINGTON » Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress today that if automatic government spending cuts kick in on March 1 he may be compelled to furlough the "vast majority" of the Defense Department's 800,000 civilian workers. Hawaii would have to cut more than $138 million from its civilian payroll, officials estimate.

Panetta also said the across-the-board spending reductions would "put us on a path toward a hollow force," meaning a military incapable of fulfilling all of its missions.

In a written message to employees, Panetta said that he notified members of Congress today that if the White House and Congress cannot strike a deficit reduction deal before March 1 to avoid the furloughs, all affected workers will get at least 30 days' advance notice.

The furloughs would be part of a broader plan the Pentagon is preparing in order to cut $46 billion through the end of this budget year, which ends Sept. 30. More cuts would come in future years as long as the automatic government spending cuts, known as sequestration, remained in effect.

"In the event of sequestration we will do everything we can to be able to continue to perform our core mission of providing for the security of the United States, but there is no mistaking that the rigid nature of the cuts forced upon this department, and their scale, will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force," Panetta wrote.

Adding his voice to the budget debate, Secretary of State John Kerry said the fiscal impasse is a serious threat to American credibility around the world.

"Think about it: It is hard to tell the leadership of any number of countries that they must resolve their economic issues if we don't resolve our own," Kerry said today in a speech aat the University of Virginia.

Panetta was flying today to Brussels to attend a NATO defense ministers meeting. Spokesman George Little told reporters en route that Panetta would tell his counterparts that across-the-board budget cuts will hurt not only the U.S. military but also the ability of NATO to respond to crises.

Little said the Pentagon is also discussing the possibility of not being able to send military units on planned rotations to various places around the world. In anticipation of cuts, the Pentagon has already decided not to send one aircraft carrier back to the Persian Gulf, reducing the U.S. presence there to one carrier.

Pentagon officials have said their furloughs would be structured so that nearly all 800,000 civilian workers lose one day of work per week for 22 weeks, probably starting in late April. That means they would lose 20 percent of their pay over that period.

The Pentagon has begun discussing details of the furloughs with defense worker union officials.

President Barack Obama has exempted military personnel from furloughs.

House Speaker John Boehner put the blame on Obama and said he agrees with Panetta that automatic spending cuts would devastate the military.

Boehner released a copy of Panetta's letter formally notifying Congress that the Pentagon will have to consider furloughing a large portion of its civilian workforce if sequestration kicks in.

"The furloughs contemplated by this notice will do real harm to our national security," Panetta wrote in his congressional notification letter, adding that it would make troops less ready for combat and slow the acquisition of important weapons.

"Overall, sequestration will put us on a path toward a hollow force and inflict serious damage on our national security," Panetta wrote.

The only civilian Pentagon workers who would be exempt from furloughs would be Senate-confirmed political appointees such as the defense secretary and deputy defense secretary, as well as a relatively small number of workers deemed essential to protect the safety of defense property and personnel.

Panetta said the administration is still working with Congress to avoid automatic budget cuts by reaching agreement on a deficit reduction plan.


Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Lolita C. Baldor and Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.

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serious wrote:
If they are non essential--why are they collecting paychecks? One way of cutting defense spending would be to ground AF ONE for a few months and Michelle too!!
on February 20,2013 | 08:56AM
entrkn wrote:
Just focus cutbacks on Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wyoming, and California... and I predict that the sequester will be avoided.
on February 20,2013 | 09:35AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
What amazes me is that Boehner can blame Obama for the spending cuts but the Republicans have said it in their mantra that we should cut spending. His political grandstanding is nothing but an effort to shore up support for the Republicans for the next election. No, I don't agree with all of Obama's actions but the Republicans have themselves been guilty of actions that have helped to bankrupt the United States of America. Those wars that they have funded with borrowed money have taken their toll. And now they are blaming the other party that has to deal with the damage.
on February 20,2013 | 09:37AM
gari wrote:
Funny how we all think that this is "happening in a vacumn.".. How can we threaten cuts or no cuts and yesterday , our teachers , government workers here are striking or asking for increases . Let's all slow down .
on February 20,2013 | 09:49AM
MalamaKaAina wrote:
automatic government spending cuts are good for AMERICA!
on February 20,2013 | 12:18PM
HD36 wrote:
It's a step in the right direction but nowhere near what's needed. The highly dramatic economic and military armageddon like scenario painted if we make these very miniscule cuts deserves an academy award.
on February 20,2013 | 06:06PM
lani_moo wrote:
Can America go on strike to protest the ineffectiveness of Congress?
on February 20,2013 | 02:29PM
engineersoldier wrote:
This is not the way to do it, but we need a ground up look at how we are spending our defense dollars. We are said to spend as much as the next 13 great defense spending countries. I think perhaps the same as the next five countries added would be a good target, How about starting with the mega-dollar contracts to do everything soldiers used to do. Also, time to take a serious look at reinstating the draft. It's good for the country and leads to more responsible policy by the politicians when you have their sons and daughters fighting our wars. Of course the generals will complain; that's why we need tough serious leadership, which I'm afraid we do not have.
on February 20,2013 | 03:39PM
NiteMarcher wrote:
1) We don't need military bases all over the world. For what? Why are we leaving troops all over the place, where their are no threats, no wars, no nothing. 2) We need to cut back on defense contracts for the military. Instead of making things last over a long period of time, the military just dumps it and just keeps ordering up something new...again wasting money. The navy puts ships out of commission, just look at all those ships in the PH junkyard,
on February 20,2013 | 04:22PM
HD36 wrote:
True, there are hundreds of unused, wasted jet engines sitting in Arizona desert.
on February 20,2013 | 06:08PM
HD36 wrote:
Government workers have gotten a cost of living allowance paycheck their entire career, so if they take a furlough, they're still ahead of the average private sector worker.
on February 20,2013 | 06:10PM
niimi wrote:
on February 20,2013 | 08:40PM
niimi wrote:
I think the sequester is a good thing. Everyone needs to share in the money saved by our Federal government. Everybody.
on February 20,2013 | 08:39PM
sailfish1 wrote:
800,000 civilian workers! There are move civilians working for the defense department than there are soldiers. Lay off 1/3 of them and the rest still won't be working at 100%. Too much fat in the defense budget.
on February 20,2013 | 09:02PM
HD36 wrote:
You're right, we gotta lighten the load on this sinking ship before everyone goes down.
on February 20,2013 | 09:11PM
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