The House added a whole new wrinkle to concerns about military readiness and budget cuts on Tuesday by passing legislation barring furloughs for civilian workers in fiscal 2014.
Passed by voice vote as an amendment to the 2014 defense appropriations bill, the legislation sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., prohibits the Defense Department from spending any money to implement civilian furloughs beginning Oct. 1, 2013.
Lamborn said the vote is “a first step toward restoring sanity to the defense budget and restoring pay to our nation’s civilian defense workers.”
Although the amendment was bipartisan, Lamborn still took a dig at the White House, saying he proposed the legislation “to make sure the Obama administration can no longer play politics with the lives and jobs of our civilian defense workers.”
The vote comes as 650,000 defense civilian workers are just starting to take 11 scheduled furlough days as a cost-cutting measure to cope with the $37 billion across-the-board sequestration cuts required when Congress and the White House failed to reach an agreement earlier this year on spending and deficit reduction.
There are increasing concerns that an even bigger, $52 billion sequester would occur in fiscal 2014, which begins Oct. 1, because the Obama administration and Congress appear no closer to an agreement.
In preparation for possible 2014 cuts, DoD does not intend to do more civilian furloughs, but is instead planning for potential layoffs. In a so-called “Plan B” letter to Congress, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel did not rule out more furloughs but said an involuntary reduction-in-force of civilians is one of the steps being planned in case sequestration carries into 2014.
Barring furloughs would limit Pentagon options, making layoffs not just more likely but also deeper, according to congressional aides. Inability to absorb short-term budget cuts from civilian furloughs also could force DoD to make deeper cuts in other programs, such as military personnel.
Hagel has already warned sequestration in 2014 could result in a freeze in promotions and reassignment moves and lead to the cancellation of discretionary recruiting and retention bonuses.
Lamborn’s amendment wasn’t the only furlough protection passed by the House on Tuesday. Also by voice vote, the House passed an amendment prohibiting civilians who are paid from working capital revolving funds from being furloughed, a move that would protect many depot workers, and another amendment to exempt National Guard dual-status technicians from furloughs.
The working capital amendment was sponsored by Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and the National Guard technician amendment was offered by Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss.
The Senate will not take up the measure until after Labor Day.
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