Army civilians begin first week of furlough
WASHINGTON -- Some 229,000 Army civilians began their furloughs this week, along with thousands of other military civilians.
Using Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's guidance, the Army distributed each person's 88 hours of furlough this fiscal year for one day a week for a total of 11 days, from this week through September, said Tony J. Stamilio, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Civilian Personnel and Quality of Life.
Commanders were given a lot of flexibility in choosing the day of the week employees would be furloughed, Stamilio said, adding that it boiled down to mission requirements and accommodation of employee considerations.
DIGNITY AND RESPECT
The furloughs are undoubtedly having a negative impact on morale, said Stamilio.
"No one wanted this to happen," he said. "It is difficult for all of us."
Stamilio said he wants to try to soften the blows.
It's important managers encourage good communications throughout the work force and that everyone is treated with dignity and respect. He said he's already seeing some of this with one-on-ones with supervisors, sensing sessions and town hall meetings.
The Army and DOD are also gauging morale and attitudes with surveys. Current surveys combined with those from previous years, he said, will show longitudinal trends and impacts.
One of the first steps the Army took when it learned that the furlough would definitely take place was to ensure to the maximum extent possible that those furlough notices be hand-delivered by first-line supervisors, Stamilio said. The reason was so that there could be an opportunity for conversations where thoughts and feelings could be expressed.
Over the last decade of wartime service, Army civilians have performed as magnificently as their military counterparts, Stamilio concluded.
"Thousands have deployed in harm's way and others have performed essential support service on the home-front," he said. "I want to take a moment to recognize their great service and I want each and every one of them to realize that the furloughs are in no way a negative reflection of their valuable contributions."
Stamilio said he encourages managers to pass that same message on to their own employees.
NO GOOD OPTION
The Army and the other services had no other good option but to furlough civilian workers, said Hagel, who directed the furlough.
"Major budgetary shortfalls drove the basic furlough decision," Hagel wrote in a May 14, 2013 memo to service chiefs. "DOD's budget for fiscal year 2013 was reduced by $37 billion, including $20 billion in the operations and maintenance accounts that pay many of our civilian workers."
Stamilio thinks this year's furloughs will save the Army about $500 million.
Although the furlough will result in cost savings, reductions in services are inevitable.
The Army is experiencing a 20 percent staffing reduction as a result of the furlough, which means some tasks or missions are being reduced or simply not getting done at all, Stamilio acknowledged.
As a result of the man-hour losses, managers and supervisors "have been instructed to prioritize the most critical tasks and mission pieces," he said.
Since this is the first time that DOD and the Army have gone through this type of furlough, "we are still working out the bugs to ensure mission-critical duties are getting done," Stamilio said.
Working out those bugs involves weekly conversations across all Army commands with leaders and human resource managers, he said. Some of those meetings are formal and some are informal.
Besides meeting with Army leaders, Stamilio said he's in contact with outside agencies as well, including a meeting he had this week with all the national labor partners the Army deals with.
"We've got to hear their concerns and suggestions on ways to make things run more smoothly," he said.
Rules for the furlough will remain in place as directed by Hagel, but implementation "will evolve somewhat on the margins as we figure out better and smarter ways to do things and as we get supplementary guidance from the Office of the Secretary of Defense," Stamilio said.
Most but not all Army civilians are being furloughed.
Exemptions include employees paid from non-appropriated funds. Since they don't receive paychecks from the Army, no savings would result, Stamilio explained.
Also exempted are some Army civilians involved in health and safety occupations such as police officers, firefighters or emergency-room technicians, he said.
A third category involves those serving in combat zones or in areas deemed critical to national security, such as key intelligence positions.
"Our goal in making these decisions was participation to the maximum extent possible," he said, meaning to make the process fair as well as to maximize cost savings.
To add to cost savings and to prevent more furlough days, the Army instituted an across-the-board hiring freeze this year, except for positions supervisors or commanders deem "critical" to the Army mission, Stamilio said.
Some in uniform are feeling the impact of the furlough as well.
Reservists who are also DOD employees are also being furloughed, although their normal military duties and paychecks are not impacted.
National Guard Soldiers who are not in a mobilization status are also being furloughed since they are considered "dual-status" employees, getting paid in the same manner as civilian employees when they are not mobilized.