Furloughs for Department of Defense civilians begin Monday, a move that amounts to a 20 percent cut in pay for hundreds of thousands of defense workers over the next three months and will disrupt operations at installations around the country, Pentagon officials warn.
The furloughs, which were ordered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to meet mandated budget cuts forced by the sequester, will affect more than 650,000 civilian defense workers.
The Pentagon initially projected that 22 furlough days would be needed to meet its sequester targets, but Hagel announced in May that the number would be reduced to 11 days.
This sequester impact will be felt far beyond the beltway — as far away as Kansas City, where US Army Corp of Engineers will furlough 335 of its 800 employees. The Kansas City district of the Corp is charged with maintaining flood control mechanisms and navigation of part of the Missouri River. The district’s chief says he expects the furloughs will hurt mission readiness. About 800 civilian will be affected by furloughs in Montana, while 21,660 defense workers in Montana will be affected.
For these workers, all over the country, furlough means a 20 percent pay cut.
Joanna Baker, 72, has been a DOD employee for 45 years. She, her husband and her son work at Moncrief Army Community Hospital in Fort Jackson, S.C.:
“This [has] a profound effect . . . With both my husband and myself furloughed this affects how we will spend . . . certainly no high ticket items such as a new car, or fun vacations . . . No movies, or ‘eat out’ nights. . . .
“I believe morale for civilian employees is at the lowest level possible. . . . Civilian morale will NEVER be the same as it has in the past, and it will get worse and worse as the furloughs progress. . . . We have lost many outstanding civilians . . . because of the furloughs and we will be losing more. In the future if they try to recruit professionals, what professional in the right mind would come to work for an organization who will do this to their most valuable assets?”
Jamie Pettis, 38, is a disabled Army veteran, who now is a civilian employee at the Corpus Christi Army Depot. He is a single parent with a 15-year-old daughter:
“The furlough will affect my family and me greatly. . . . I currently cannot keep up with the car payments . . . I have cut off my cable and Internet services . . . so I can start saving now before furlough hits my paycheck. I am re-evaluating my grocery bill to buy just enough to eat week by week. My daughter and I both have health conditions. Now we will not be able to just make an appointment when we feel like it. Now we will have to make the appointment when we can afford it. My daughter has alopecia areata so we buy hair pieces every 4-6 weeks at a cost of $210 each time. Now I will have to make her go longer with a hair piece that is unmanageable.
Multiply stories like this by 650,000, then factor in the economic impact on communities now that these workers will be spending less money on goods and services — money that supports jobs in state and local economies — and tell me again that the sequester isn’t all that "scary."