JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday that furloughs for workers are being cut from 11 days to six. Civilian employees will take their last furloughs next week instead of late September.
Hagel said he was able to win the reprieve by finding savings and cuts in other areas.
Ever since July 8, some 650,000 civilian defense workers -- including thousands at Jacksonville's Navy bases -- have been taking one unpaid day off each week. It has effectively cut employee pay about 20 percent for nearly three months. The savings from 11 furlough days was only about $1.8 billion, a sliver of the $40 billion that the Pentagon had to cut as part of the sequester, or forced federal spending cuts.
It wasn't immediately clear on Tuesday what the defense department chopped to relieve federal workers.
"Thanks to the DoD's efforts to identify savings and help from Congress, we will reduce the total numbers of furlough days for DoD civilian employees," Hagel said in a statement.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott called the fact that the number of furloughs of Florida National Guard employees was reduced "great news."
"We are hopeful that this common sense approach to budgeting will now also apply to the Guard's next fiscal year, which begins in October," Scott said in a statement.
Federal workers and their unions praised the news.
"The secretary's announcement suggests that he has finally realized that furloughs are costly in terms of dollars, readiness, and morale," said J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
Furloughs have caused delays of much-needed supplies to some troops, according to unions.
With doctors and nurses also on furlough, it has led to delays in surgeries at some military hospitals. Long waits to get into military health clinics and pharmacies are common.
The Pentagon now has to turn its attention to what will happen when the 2014 fiscal calendar starts on Oct. 1, when the agency is looking at trimming an additional $52 billion.
"Facing this uncertainty, I cannot be sure what will happen next year, but I want to assure our civilian employees that we will do everything possible to avoid more furloughs," Hagel said.
The Pentagon is the largest federal employer, with a budget of $680 billion.
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