DoD exempts shipyard workers from furloughs

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced today that civilian defense employees will be required to take 11 unpaid days off, but shipyard workers will be exempt. About 11,000 of Kitsap County’s 13,700 civilian employees work at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility.

Navy shipyards are exempted “because it would be particularly difficult to make up delays in maintenance work on nuclear vessels and these vessels are critical to mission success,” according to a memorandum from the defense secretary.

About 28,000 shipyard workers nationwide are exempted, by far the largest group. Next are Department of Defense teachers, at 10,950, followed by 4,712 civilian service mariners when they’re at sea.

“This will certainly take the weight of uncertainty and worry off of your shoulders,” Capt. Steve Williamson, shipyard commander, said in a statement to workers.

Now they need to support Hagel’s decision.

“He recognizes how important you are to the defense of our country,” Williamson wrote. “Now it is time to prove him right. There are thousands of other federal workers that will be furloughed, which makes our critical job that much more important. We must do it well. We must do it right the first time. And we must do it efficiently.”

In January, the Department of Defense planned to make civilian defense workers take 22 nonpaid days off because of budget problems. A defense-spending bill passed in March allowed money to be shifted into maintenance and operations accounts and cut furlough days to 14.

Those who aren’t exempted should expect to get furlough notices between May 28 and June 5. Decision letters will be served between June 5 and July 5. Furloughs will begin July 8 with one day off per week, according to the secretary’s memo.

Across-the-board cuts known as sequestration reduced the Defense Department’s fiscal 2013 budgets by $37 billion, including $20 billion in operating and maintenance accounts that pay most civilian workers. Because the wartime budget is also subject to the cuts, DOD must use funds originally budgeted for other purposes to provide troops the resources they need, Hagel said. That resulted in a shortfall of more than $30 billion in operations and maintenance with less than six months left in the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, to account for it.

Cuts were made in maintenance, training and deployments to try to prevent furloughs. The Army has stopped rotations at its training centers for the rest of the year. A second aircraft carrier strike group wasn’t sent to the Middle East.

“Finally we got to a point where we could not go responsibly any deeper in cutting and jeopardizing our core mission,” Hagel said Tuesday in the Pentagon briefing room. “That means I’ve made a decision that we’ll go forward with furloughs starting July 8 of 11 days.

“We’ve taken it as close to the line as we can and still be capable of protecting this country. We’ve still got a war going on and dangerous, unpredictable places all over the world. It was difficult choice, but we had to make it. We did everything we could not to get to this stage, but that’s where we are.”

Hagel said no service was protected more than another. He strived to be fair, though the Navy wound up with the majority of exemptions.

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