Defense Dept. poised to ease sequestration impacts

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and British Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond (R) conduct a press conference at the Pentagon May 2, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia. During the press conference, Hagel confirmed that the U.S. President Barack Obama administration is considering arming the Syrian rebels. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Updated: 4:18 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon announced plans today to furlough about 680,000 of its civilian employees for 11 days through the end of this fiscal year, making only limited exceptions for the military to avoid or reduce the unpaid days off.

At a town hall meeting today in Alexandria, Va., Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that most of the 800,000 civilian Pentagon employees will take 11 furlough days beginning July 8, due to the sequester.

"We got to a point where I could not responsibly go any deeper into cutting or jeopardizing our core missions, on readiness or training, and I just couldn't do any more," Hagel said. "Right now I can't run this institution into the ditch. This will go until the end of the fiscal year. We've taken it as close to the line as we can, [while] still capable of protecting this country and this country's interests around the world."

"I can't guarantee you that we're not going to be in some kind of a similar situation next year," Hagel added.

According to a memo obtained by The Associated Press, the decision results from what Hagel called "an unpleasant set of choices" -- trying to avoid furloughing workers, while also looking to use money to restore sharp cuts in training and flight operations.

He says in the memo that if the "budgetary situation" allows it, he will look to bring an early end to the furloughs.

Automatic budget cuts initially forced the Pentagon to warn that most of its 800,000 civilians would be forced to take 22 unpaid days off. When lawmakers approved a new spending bill at the end of March, they gave the Pentagon greater latitude to find savings, and the furlough days were cut to 14.

Under pressure from military leaders and members of Congress, the Navy will be able to avoid furloughs for tens of thousands of workers at shipyards.

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