The Pentagon would need to furlough “virtually all” of its nearly 800,000 civilian employees for one month between March and September if mandatory federal spending cuts go into effect in March, according to a prominent defense budget analyst.
The analysis by Todd Harrison, a defense spending expert with the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, is the latest chapter in the ongoing fiscal spending saga that has stymied Washington for more than a year.
“This will have a very real impact if [sequestration] goes into effect,” Harrison said during a Jan. 9 briefing in Washington. “One of the first things we’ll see, DoD will have to start furloughing civilian employees.”
Last week, the White House and Congress reached a deal to avert tax increases for the majority of American citizens. But cuts to DoD and other federal agencies — known as sequestration — were delayed from January until March in hopes lawmakers and President Obama could agree on a comprehensive plan to reduce the federal deficit.
Under the new deal, the 2013 impact of sequestration on DoD was lowered from about $63 billion to $48 billion, according to Harrison.
The reduction required across all accounts falls to about 9 percent; however, that could fluctuate depending on the amount of unobligated money in each spending account. Military personnel coffers are exempt from the cuts, but count against the budget caps required under the law.
“I’m using an estimate here,” Harrison said. “We don’t actually know the unobligated balances until right before [sequestration] happens.”
DoD would need to furlough basically all of its 791,000 full-time civilian employees to meet the level of cuts mandated by sequestration between March and September, the remainder of the fiscal year. DoD spends about $70 billion per year on pay and benefits for those employees, according to Harrison. Sequestration would cut 8.8 percent from that account.
“You only have seven months remaining in the fiscal year to administer that cut,” he said. “By March 1, DoD will already have spent five months’ worth of the money in those accounts.”
That means DoD would have to reduce payroll expenses for the rest of the year by 15 percent, Harrison said.
“If you’re going to reduce your payroll expenses by 15 percent for the remainder of the year and you’re going to do it through furloughs, that means you have to furlough virtually every single DoD civilian for the maximum amount of time you can under the law, which is one month,” he said.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little on Jan. 8 called the current fiscal state of affairs in Washington “a mess” and “highly problematic.”
“We need to avoid the fiscal cliff that we could go off on March 1,” he said during a briefing. “It’s time for Congress to avert sequestration once and for all … This is about the defense of the United States and the people who serve in the United States military and our civilian personnel, also, who carry out missions and support of the defense of this nation.”