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Civilians at Pentagon to lose pay a day each week under sequester

| Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 7:12 p.m.
AFP/Getty Images
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks about furloughs during a town hall style meeting at the Department of Defense's MARK Center May 14, 2013 in Alexandria, Virginia. Hagel announced Tuesday that the Department of Defense is reducing to 11 the number of unpaid furlough days that 680,000 of the Pentagon’s civilian employees will have to face through September. The number of furlough days is now half what had been projected early in the year when sequestration cuts kicked in. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKIBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon told its civilian workforce on Tuesday that it will put most of them on unpaid leave for one day a week starting in July, a deeply unpopular move that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel blamed on broad budget cuts imposed by Congress.

The defense budget has taken the single biggest hit from automatic spending cuts, known in Washington as the “sequester,” and Hagel said he had tried to spare civilians the financial hardship ahead by first cutting elsewhere.

“We did everything we could not to get to this day, this way,” Hagel told an audience of Defense Department employees.

“But that's it. That's where we are. ... And I'm sorry about that.”

For those of the more than 600,000 civilian defense employees affected, the decision translates to a salary cut of roughly 20 percent during the furlough period — which runs from July 8 until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Although the total will vary, most civilian employees will be on unpaid leave for 11 days, shorter than the earlier Pentagon estimates of 14 days issued in March and 22 days in February.

But many civilians had hoped Hagel would find other ways to cut the budget or allow individual branches of the military to shield the civilian employees entirely. The move is expected to save $1.8 billion.

Only vital missions are being protected. A second official, briefing reporters, said more than 120,000 civilian employees would be exempted from furloughs, including employees stationed in combat zones and medical personnel.

Employees in Navy shipyards are also being exempted because of fear their absence would delay maintenance of nuclear ships, according to an attachment to a memo by Hagel to Pentagon leaders released to reporters.

“No one service, no one's going to be protected more than anybody else,” Hagel said.

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