Continuing her repeated opposition toward automatic budget cuts that have been implemented on account of the sequester and renewing her call for a balanced, long-term solution, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has called on the Department of Defense to maximize "available flexibility during the implementation process" in order to mitigate the sequester's impact on workers, specifically the thousands at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard who provide critical services to the country.
In a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Shaheen asked for flexibility in the implementation of "ill-advised" automatic budget cuts triggered by sequestration, specifically calling for the avoidance of unpaid furlough days for federal employees.
"As we continue to seek a long-term deficit deal to replace sequestration, I respectfully urge you to make every effort to mitigate the impact that such indiscriminate reductions in spending could have on members of our federal workforce, including those employed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard," Shaheen said in in the letter.
"Sequestration is not a solution to our nation's fiscal crisis. Automatic cuts are the least responsible way to address our debt. The best way to avoid sequestration is a thoughtful, long-term deficit reduction plan," she added. "This will require reforms to all areas of spending, including domestic, mandatory, and defense, as well as revenues through comprehensive tax reform."
The Pentagon recently announced unpaid furlough days caused by automatic budget cuts will be reduced from 22 to 14 for Defense Department civilian employees. In the event that furloughs cannot be avoided entirely, however, Shaheen urges additional actions to be taken to provide the Pentagon with flexibility to lessen the effects on workers and their families.
Shaheen has repeatedly called for bipartisan compromise on a long-term deficit deal to replace sequestration, doing so at a visit to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on Thursday. Shaheen voted for a responsible Senate Budget Resolution last week that would replace sequestration while reining in the country's debt and deficit.
The full text of the letter is below:
March 28, 2013
The Honorable Chuck Hagel
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Hagel:
As we continue to seek a long-term deficit deal to replace sequestration, I respectfully urge you to make every effort to mitigate the impact that such indiscriminate reductions in spending could have on members of our federal workforce, including those employed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY). I recognize the difficulties associated with implementing these ill-advised cuts and the tough decisions that will have to be made in the weeks ahead. However, I also believe that maximizing available flexibility during the implementation process will make available more resources for state and local leaders to lessen the effects on federal employees and their families.
Sequestration is not a solution to our nation's fiscal crisis. Automatic cuts are the least responsible way to address our debt. The best way to avoid sequestration is a thoughtful, long-term deficit reduction plan. This will require reforms to all areas of spending, including domestic, mandatory, and defense, as well as revenues through comprehensive tax reform.
As Congress works toward an agreement, it is imperative that we take every possible step to mitigate the impact of sequestration on federal employees, including with respect to the possibility of furloughs. I hope that with the recent passage and signing into law of H.R. 933, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013, which provides much-needed funding in certain Department of Defense (DOD) accounts, damaging furloughs for our DOD civilian employees could be minimized or avoided entirely.
In the event that furloughs cannot be avoided, there are additional actions you could take to further minimize their impact. For example, as installation commanders negotiate the possibility of furlough schedules with employee representatives, we encourage you to afford them the maximum flexibility possible. I understand that if furloughs are structured consistent with individual State regulations, employees may be able to collect Unemployment Insurance.
There is also concern regarding abrupt loss of pay and security clearances. As you know, many civilian employees at military installations across our country require security clearances to conduct their work. Often, financial hardship can disqualify an individual from maintaining their clearance. Given that federal workers face as much as a 20 percent reduction in pay, I urge the Department to remain sensitive to financial difficulties as you consider the renewal of security clearances moving forward. These are basic steps we can take to ensure that federal employees are provided with at least some flexibility under these regrettable circumstances.
As you know well, federal employees provide critical service to our nation. As we work to address our fiscal challenges and hopefully avert the disruptive consequences of inaction, I urge you to allow all possible flexibility in the implementation of these unfortunate cuts.