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Defense worker: 'On furlough — back Tuesday'

| Monday, July 8, 2013, 8:48 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Civilian Defense workers across the United States began taking unpaid leave on Monday in a Pentagon-imposed austerity move expected to save $1.8 billion through Sept. 30 by effectively cutting the pay of about 650,000 workers by nearly 20 percent.

Defense officials said they could not say exactly how many people took a day of unpaid leave because those decisions are handled locally at workplaces across the country. But absences were evident at the Pentagon.

“Sorry, we're on furlough — back Tuesday,” said a sign taped to one computer.

The move, criticized by some lawmakers and unions, was one of the most visible effects of the nearly $37 billion in automatic across-the-board budget cuts imposed on the Pentagon this year to try to curb the government's nearly $1 trillion deficit.

The military has postponed maintenance, curtailed training, canceled deployments and taken other steps to slash spending.

The cuts were imposed when Congress and the Obama administration failed to reach a compromise on alternative ways to reduce outlays.

Defense officials said about 85 percent of the 770,000 civilian employees eligible for furlough would begin taking two days of unpaid leave per two-week pay period beginning this week and continuing through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. That amounts to about a day per week for 11 weeks.

“I myself will be furloughed two days this pay period, which starts today,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

He said the furloughs were expected to reduce Pentagon spending by $1.8 billion through the end of the fiscal year.

Rep. Sean Maloney of New York said the cuts were the result of “dumb decisions” by the last Congress. He said the furloughs would affect about 1,000 families at the military academy at West Point in New York, slashing an average of $4,000 in wages per affected employee between now and Sept. 30.

“That's a big cut in anybody's pay, particularly over such a short period,” Maloney told a conference call.

“It represents an 18-percent reduction in that pay, and this will be a direct impact on families themselves but also the communities that depend on the wages of these employees for their own small businesses and local economies,” he said.

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