Now that Congress has passed a spending bill to fund government operations for the rest of the fiscal year, with additional funding for the Defense Department, the Pentagon can reduce the number of unpaid furlough days it's forcing civilian employees to take.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters today the spending bill, known as the continuing resolution, will allow the department to reduce the furlough days from 22 to 14. The furloughs will affect as many as 700,000 employees.
"It did fix some of our urgent problems, in particular it put some of the dollars back in the right accounts," Hagel said of the spending bill, which President Obama signed earlier this week. "We still don't have the flexibility we had hoped to get, but having money in the right accounts is particularly important. It reduces a shortfall at least in the operations budget."
The spending bill shifted $10 billion to the department's operation and maintenance account, but Hagel said today it still faces a $22 billion shortfall in that account for fiscal year 2013. "We're going to have to deal with that reality, and that means we're going to have to prioritize and makes some cuts," Hagel said.
Hagel also said that the sequestration cuts that went into effect this year are now expected to slash $41 billion from the Pentagon's fiscal year 2013 budget, rather than $46 billion. As the Pentagon adjusts to the spending cuts, Hagel said he's directed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and other defense leaders to begin a review of the entire department's framework of strategic interests.
"When you're dealing with $41 billion less than what was projected in a budget, you're going to adjust," Hagel said. "We've got no choice, it is what it is. Make no mistake, the capability of this Department of Defense to defend the interests of our country and our allies will be there."
Dempsey noted that the sequestration cuts are not the deepest cuts to ever hit the department, but they are the steepest.