WASHINGTON – Defense Department furloughs that took effect Monday will mean about a 20 percent reduction in pay for the rest of this fiscal year for the roughly 8,400 department civilian employees in Arizona.
The furloughs do not affect active military, but most civilian defense workers will lose 11 days of pay – almost one day a week – between now and Sept. 30 as part of the Pentagon’s efforts to meet cuts ordered by the federal budget sequestration.
The furloughs will hit more than 650,000 civilian defense employees nationwide and save the Defense Department $1.8 billion in this fiscal year. Officials could not immediately provide an estimate on the loss of wages in Arizona, but some said the cuts will be felt in the local economy.
Harry Shapiro, of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, noted that Luke Air Force Base is a big part of the economy in that part of the state, so “of course” the cuts will cause an impact.
Rep. Ron Barber, D-Tucson, agreed, saying in a statement Monday that the cuts would be “a financial blow” to more than just the furloughed workers.
“These cuts will spread throughout the communities where these men and women live and work as they are forced to reduce their own spending to deal with this unfair pay cut,” Barber said. “That will be a financial blow to many small businesses.”
He had estimated in May that furloughs would hit nearly 5,000 civilian workers at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Fort Huachuca and the 162nd Fighter Wing of the Arizona Air National Guard.
Barber said then that furloughing people who “are essential to our national security” is unacceptable.
But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in May that the Pentagon had made “vigorous efforts to meet our budgetary shortfalls though actions other than furlough.”
It could have been worse: The department initially expected that civilian employees would have to take off 22 days.
Furloughs for 11 days reflect “the department’s vigorous efforts to meet our budgetary shortfalls through actions other than furlough,” Hagel said in May. “I have made this decision very reluctantly, because I know that the furloughs will disrupt lives and impact DoD operations.”
The cuts were ordered as part of sequestration, automatic federal budget reductions that took effect this year after Congress and the White House failed to reach agreement on a long-term budget reduction plan.
Pentagon spokesman George Little on Monday called sequestration “an unfortunate mechanism designed to avoid unfortunate consequences.”
Barber in May blasted the “irresponsible and wrong-headed cuts.” He had introduced a bill in April that would have cut congressional pay by 20 percent to offset the furloughs, but it failed to gain any co-sponsors in the House.
Mike Varney, president and CEO of Tucson Metro Chamber, called the sequester a “two-edged sword.” He understands the need for cuts, but wishes they had been made elsewhere.
“We need to balance our budget and clearly there are cost reductions called for, we just don’t think defense is the place to start,” Varney said.
Virginia has the most civilians facing furlough, at 72,000, while Vermont has the fewest at about 490, according to news reports.
While Hagel opposed the cuts, he said in May that they were crafted to keep the nation’s defense at full capacity.
“The department has been doing everything possible to reduce this shortfall while ensuring we can defend the nation, sustain wartime operations, and preserve DoD’s most critical asset – our world-class civilian and military personnel,” Hagel said then.