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Defense workers’ furlough days cut

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There was good news and bad news in the Pentagon’s announcement Tuesday that it will furlough up to 680,000 civilian defense workers for 11 days this summer.

The number of furlough days has dropped from 22 to 14 and now 11. The Pentagon also is exempting shipyard workers from the remaining 11 furlough days that will affect most Defense Department civilian employees between July 8 and the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The decision means that 4,447 civilian workers at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, the state’s largest industrial employer, will keep their regular workweeks — and full paychecks — officials said.

A memo Tuesday from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said employees in Navy shipyards will be exempted from furlough "because it would be particularly difficult to make up delays in maintenance work on nuclear vessels and these vessels are critical to mission success."

About 90 percent of the Pearl Harbor shipyard work is on nuclear-powered Los Angeles-class and Virginia-class attack submarines.

The White House previously estimated that about 20,000 defense civilians in Hawaii would be furloughed with sequestration budget cuts, reducing gross pay by about $134.1 million.

Despite the good news for the shipyard, thousands of Hawaii defense workers will have one unpaid day off per week starting in July.

About 530 firefighters, police and child care providers at Navy Region Hawaii are expected to be exempt from furlough, but an additional 5,860 employees won’t be, the command said.

Marine Corps Base Hawaii said it expects about 500 employees to face the job cuts.

Rob Garrett is one of them. The 50-year-old accounting manager for the Kaneohe Bay base is his family’s sole breadwinner. His wife is a stay-at-home mom, and the couple has a daughter who is a sophomore at Hawaii Baptist Academy.

"Obviously, we have to cut back to make up the difference," Garrett said, adding that will probably mean going out less.

Garrett said furlough warnings that have come since February mean he’s prepared for a shrinking paycheck, but the uncertainty of when and for how long has been difficult.

"I work in accounting, so I work with numbers all day long and I manage my finances that way," he said. "But a lot of people aren’t in those same circumstances. I know it’s going to affect a lot of other people financially. I have several people that work for me that have talked about getting a part-time job to make up the difference."

Garrett also thinks the actual number of furlough days will drop even more. In February the Pentagon said it would be up to 22 days. A month later the cuts were pegged at 14. Tuesday’s announcement put it at 11.

"Personally, I think it will (drop), but I can only go off what the facts are," Garrett said.

About 590 Air Force civilians on Oahu will be affected by the 11-day furlough, Pacific Air Forces said.

U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii could not be reached for comment Tuesday. An Army PowerPoint slide previously said as many as 7,032 civilians here would be furloughed.

Hagel concluded after weeks of review that budget cuts required that most of its civilian workforce be furloughed beginning in July.

Congress allowed the Pentagon to shift or reprogram some funds in March that cut the furlough days to 14 from 22, but with maintenance, training, flying hours and ship deployments increasingly affected, 11 furlough days is what the Defense Department now has arrived at, officials said.

"We kept going back. And finally, we got to a point where I could not responsibly go any deeper into cutting or jeopardizing our formations, our readiness and training," Hagel said in a news release.

With sequestration going into effect March 1, the department’s budget for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year was cut by $37 billion, Hagel said.

"While I am encouraged that Secretary Hagel has expanded exemptions to include our nation’s shipyards and depot maintenance facilities — something that I have repeatedly advocated for — this is not a final solution," said U.S. Rep. Colleen Hana­busa, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

"Our federal civilian employees, who provide critical services to support our country, should not have to shoulder the burden of Congress’ inability to develop a balanced approach to reducing our spending," she said of sequestration.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said he was pleased to see the Pentagon reduce the number of furlough days and exempt some civilian employees, including Navy shipyard workers.

Schatz said he has been in talks with Adm. Samuel Locklear III, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, on minimizing the effects of the cuts on readiness and national security.

Furlough notices are expected to go out between May 28 and June 5.

"We are very disappointed that many of our valued civilian employees here in Hawaii will be facing significant financial hardship in the face of furloughs this summer," said Rear Adm. Frank Ponds, commander of Navy Region Hawaii.

The workers "play a critical role in keeping the Navy and Marine Corps team ready to operate forward in the Pacific," Ponds said.

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