Now It’s Official: Furloughs Frustrate Defense Department Personnel

Civilians at the Air Force Reserve Command discuss manning requirements during a meeting at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., on January 23, 2014.

U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Shanda De Anda

AA Font size + Print

Civilians at the Air Force Reserve Command discuss manning requirements during a meeting at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., on January 23, 2014.

Differences implementing the cost saving measure across the services led to grumbling about morale and problems with retention inside the department. And don't expect it to end soon. By Amelia Gruber

Furloughs at the Defense Department last summer damaged the morale not only of the civilians who were sent home without pay, but members of the military, officials at three Defense sites told congressional auditors.

In addition to resulting in a roughly 20 percent reduction in weekly pay for six weeks, the furloughs created rifts within the Defense civilian workforce, since some employees received exceptions and others did not, and the decisions were not always consistent across the services, the officials told the Government Accountability Office. GAO interviewed representatives of Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia, Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas and the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois for the report (GAO-14-529), which looks at how the Pentagon implemented furloughs in response to sequestration.  

For instance, the Air Force did not furlough its inpatient nursing staff, but the Army did, leaving the Army nurses in poorer spirits, officials at Brooke Army Medical Center noted. (The Air Force nurses were transferred to Brooke medical center as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process but management remained separate at the time of the furloughs).

At Norfolk, civilians in supporting commands were furloughed and experienced a decline in morale as their “civilian colleagues working in the shipyard were not only excepted but were also working overtime during the furlough period,” officials told GAO.

Rifts also opened between furloughed civilians and contract employees who did not take a pay cut during the furloughs, officials at the Air Mobility Command reported. In addition, the command furloughed some “civilians historically considered ‘mission essential,’” the officials noted.

The sites followed rules preventing them from using military personnel as substitutes for furloughed civilians, and “some officials stated that service members experienced a decline in morale as they worked longer hours to complete their missions in the absence” of the civilians, the report said.

Officials at the three sites also offered examples of attrition due to furloughs. GAO noted that on a broader level, the Army surgeon general has stated that 2,700 civilian doctors, nurses and health workers left in 2013 because of the furlough, with many going to the Veterans Affairs Department.

Defense officials expect a longer-term effect on morale, recruiting and retention, and have introduced several high-level initiatives to address the problem, GAO said, though the department did not offer the auditors details or timetables.

The watchdog also cautioned that “measuring the direct impact of the furlough is difficult since it was a part of a broader set of sequestration actions that included a civilian hiring freeze, limits on overtime, and termination of temporary and term hires, as well as other non-sequestration-related personnel actions, such as a 3-year pay freeze between 2011 and 2013.”

Defense initially told civilians to be ready for up to 22 furlough days in 2013, but ultimately furloughed 624,404 civilians for six dayssaving $1 billion in pay, GAO said. The watchdog noted that Pentagon officials did not factor in excepted personnel when coming up with their initial estimate of cost savings from the furloughs, and did not update their projections as they reduced the number of furlough days.

“As DoD continues to face budgetary uncertainty, and in the event of a future furlough, having comprehensive and updated cost information may help better inform decision makers,” the report stated. Defense partially agreed with this recommendation.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: Supply Chain Insecurity

    Federal organizations rely on state-of-the-art IT tools and systems to deliver services efficiently and effectively, and it takes a vast ecosystem of organizations, individuals, information, and resources to successfully deliver these products. This issue brief discusses the current threats to the vulnerable supply chain - and how agencies can prevent these threats to produce a more secure IT supply chain process.

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.