WASHINGTON — Up to 800,000 civilian defense employees face unpaid furloughs this summer, but they might take some comfort in knowing the man at the top also will take a financial hit.
In a sign of solidarity, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will voluntarily return to the U.S. Treasury the portion of his $200,000 annual salary that would be affected if he were subject to furloughs.
“The secretary plans to subject his pay to furlough levels even though he's not required to because he is a presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed official,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters Tuesday.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had indicated previously that he would do the same with his own pay.
The defense department furloughs are the result of the ongoing, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration and will affect the overwhelming majority of civilian defense employees. The Pentagon still is working through which employees will be exempted from furloughs, but that is expected to be a small portion of the overall workforce.
More than 2,800 civilian employees face potential furloughs at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha.
After Congress passed legislation to help mitigate the furloughs, the Pentagon announced last week that it was reducing the number of required furlough days to 14 from 22.
Steve Johnson, president of the base's civilian employees union, said Hagel's decision to voluntarily give up part of his salary is a “good gesture,” but it doesn't eliminate the sting of pay reductions for workers living paycheck to paycheck.
Johnson suggested the military spends too much money on weapons systems that are unnecessary or don't work and questioned why Washington can't find a better way to cut the budget than the furloughs plan.
“It makes no sense to me at all,” Johnson said.
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