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Furlough notices to DA civilians delayed

U.S. Army Installation Management Command

Published: 03:25PM March 21st, 2013
Furlough notices to go out this week

Scott Hansen/Northwest Guardian

DOD civilians, including JBLM firefighters, at left, can expect to see furlough notices in the mail later this week.

Editor’s Note: Pentagon officials announced Thursday an approximate 2-week delay in sending furlough notices to civilians. Officials now estimate the notification letters will go out on or about April 5.

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — Army civilian personnel are bracing for the impact of furloughs and changing financial priorities on their organizations. Approximately 251,000 Department of the Army civilians expect to be notified soon if they will be furloughed up to 22 days starting in April.

To meet national security responsibilities, IMCOM is prioritizing readiness and programs based on the Army strategy, while adjusting to the fiscal resources available.

Furloughs are a result of the Budget Control Act passed Aug. 2, 2011, which requires more than $487 billion in cuts from the defense base budget over 10 years, beginning in fiscal year 2013. A furlough places an employee in a temporary non-duty and non-pay status.

The Department of Defense has notified Congress of their intent to furlough most civilian employees up to 22 non-consecutive days — one day per week until the end of the fiscal year. Active duty, reserve and National Guard are exempt from furloughs.

How an individual employee or activity is affected by furloughs will be subject to the command and the overall guidance of human resources and legal advice.

Furloughs have the potential to impact approximately 27,000 IMCOM employees. There may be some exceptions for those deployed in a combat zone and those duties protect life, health and safety of our Soldiers and their Families.

All employees who may be furloughed are entitled by law to a 30-day notice before implementation. DA civilians expected to begin receiving notices this week, however Pentagon officials announced Thursday that notices to civilians would be delayed approximately two weeks.

The financial burden of the furlough will be the equivalent of an 8 1/2 percent annual reduction in pay. However, a one-day-per-week furlough during the last weeks of the fiscal year (from late April through September) equates to a 20 percent reduction in pay during that time period.

Overtime and comp time are curtailed, and no employee will be allowed to volunteer services during the furlough. Telework and the use of government issued electronics, such as blackberries, laptops or iPods will not be permitted on furlough days.

At IMCOM under which JBLM employees fall, temporary and term employees might be terminated, requiring the permanent workforce to fulfill the duties of those jobs vacated while working 20 percent fewer man-hours.

Health benefits, flexible spending accounts, federal group life insurance, vision and dental plans and federal long term care plans are not impacted during this furlough period. However, the employee is still responsible for the full premiums due for these benefits, even though their gross pay will be reduced.

These factors are expected to increase the stress on the workforce as they feel the impact on their home budgets while attempting to balance work priorities during a shortened workweek.

Other questions on the furloughs are emerging. For example, how the workweek schedule will be affected by furloughs is not clear. Some facilities and activities might accomplish their missions with a reduced workweek, while others go to rotating schedules to maintain customer service.

Discretion will normally be in the hands of the supervisor or division leader with guidance from the garrison commander, but clear guidance is not yet available.

Employee vacation days cannot be used to cover a furlough day, but there is no prohibition to taking accrued annual leave during the furlough period, with supervisor approval. The scheduling of annual leave during the furlough will likely be a lot tighter due to the reduced work hours and annual leave may need to be canceled to meet the mission.

If a furlough day is scheduled immediately before and after a federal holiday, the employee will not earn the holiday pay. This has the potential to have additional impact on pay for pay periods including Monday, May 27 (Memorial Day), Thursday, July 4 (Independence Day), and Monday, Sept. 2 (Labor Day).

The availability of unemployment compensation to ease the effect of furloughs is subject to state laws. Employees may seek part-time employment in the civilian sector, however, they should discuss with their supervisor to meet ethics requirements.

The effect of furloughs on an employee’s Thrift Savings Plan depends on whether deductions are based on percentage of basic pay or on dollar amount and it may affect the agency’s contribution. Since some retirement contributions are also based on a percentage of pay, officials encourage employees to meet with their human resources representatives and/or financial planners to determine how furloughs might affect their TSP and retirement contributions.

The availability of Family and MWR programs may also be affected, but the full impact is not yet known. This may impact the Army’s ability to mitigate the negative effects of the furlough by providing morale, welfare and recreation activities and family support programs.

All sequestration and furlough plans and actions are designed to be reversible. If Congress passes a balanced deficit reduction plan that the president signs, the impact of sequestration on civilian employees could be avoided.

There is activity in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to write bills which would soften the effects of sequestration; however, there is no guarantee that furloughs will not be enacted for the full term. For more information on how sequestration and furloughs affect the IMCOM workforce, go to http://www.imcom.army.mil/Organization/G1Personnel.aspx.