U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01), member of the House Armed Services Committee, today sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, requesting flexibility to mitigate planned furloughs of civilian Department of Defense employees in Hawaii.
In the letter, Hanabusa said that she is "concerned about the guidance that Congress has received to date mandating that all civilian furloughs be applied in the same manner across the Department of Defense. The value and positioning of Hawaii must be considered as you initiate a strategic review of the Department's priorities.
"Critical tasks, including but not limited to maintenance on our nuclear submarines at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and ensuring the quality of troop equipment at Schofield Barracks, must not be performed below the high standard our civilian employees set day in and day out. Training support for our Marines at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, and repairs to the critical heavy lift capability given to us by the Air Force's fleet at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam cannot afford to be short-changed. These efforts and assets directly support our forward deployed troops and mission in the Asia Pacific region."
Hanabusa's letter asked that the Secretary of Defense to be flexible in ordering furloughs. "In determining how to make the cuts sequestration demands, I urge you to use all available flexibility that comes from cuts being at the program level within the Operations & Maintenance accounts, versus on the account level," she said.
Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey announced that Department of Defense civilian employees could still be furloughed for 14 days through the end of the fiscal year. In a statement, Hagel said the Pentagon is going to be short at least $22 billion for operations and maintenance, "and that means we are going to have to prioritize and make some cuts and do what we've got to do."
Commenting on the letter and the planned furloughs, Hanabusa said that, "Reducing furlough days from 22 to 14 is an improvement, but we can and must to do more. Our failure to resolve sequestration during the debate on the continuing resolution or provide further flexibility to federal agencies to implement cuts still results in thousands of civilian Department of Defense employees in Hawaii facing furloughs in short period through the end of the fiscal year. Furloughing workers for an average of one day per week means that a substantial amount of work is being delayed or canceled.
"Critical tasks, like maintenance on our nuclear submarines or ensuring the safety of our cyber networks, require the attention and high quality service our civilian employees provide every day. We need to continue asking ourselves how those reductions will affect our readiness and defense posture in the vital Asia Pacific region.
"In the meantime, I intend to continue working with the Department of Defense to ensure that fair, meaningful, and effective exceptions from the furlough list are available in the event that they are forced to proceed with the furloughs as planned."
A senior Pentagon official said furlough notices would be sent out in early May, with furloughs starting in mid-June over the final seven pay periods of the fiscal year. Employees will likely be told to not come to work for one day a week from the enactment of furloughs through the end of September.
"With these furloughs, we continue to ask our federal civilian employees to shoulder the burden of Congress's inability to address sequestration in a meaningful way. My office estimates that individual civilian employees would lose an average of about $4,500 over the last 3 months of the fiscal year, extracting over $82 million our still-recovering state economy. If we allow sequestration to continue, these furloughs, these employees, and these economic impacts are just the beginning."
On March 21, Congress passed a spending bill that funds the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, reaffirms sequestration, and claims to give Defense officials "flexibility" to carry out the cuts. However, the Department of Defense says it still has significant shortfalls within Operations and Maintenance accounts, which are used to fund many of the ongoing operations in Hawaii, because of the Sequester. Hanabusa voted against this bill knowing the deep impacts of sequestration and that the flexibility provided in this bill would not be enough to avert furloughs.
"Sequestration was and remains a bad policy for Hawaii and our nation. I will continue to work in a bipartisan fashion with my colleagues to replace the destructive plan laid out by sequestration."