WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will impose furloughs of 11 days starting July 8 on as many as 680,000 civilian employees in response to the federal budget cuts, according to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
The 11 days — one each week through September — is down from as many as 22 days initially projected and 14 days estimated more recently, Hagel told Defense Department workers Tuesday at a Pentagon facility in Alexandria, Va.
The Defense Department "did everything we could" to avert the unpaid time off, according to Hagel, who said he will reduce the number of days required, if possible, later in the year.
About 68,500 of 750,000 civilian Pentagon employees who are eligible for furloughs will be exempted, according to a 10-page memo from Hagel released Tuesday.
The exemptions include 28,000 civilian workers at Navy shipyards who maintain vessels "because it would be particularly difficult to make up delays in maintenance work on nuclear vessels, and these vessels are critical to mission success," Hagel said in the memo.
Employees involved in intelligence and in handling foreign arms sales also will be exempted, Hagel said.
The automatic spending cuts, called sequestration, took effect March 1.
Furloughs already have begun for other federal employees, including the White House staff.
Congress moved last month to let the Federal Aviation Administration move around funds to stop furloughs of air-traffic controllers that forced delays at the nation's largest airports and provoked anger from travelers.
"I deeply regret this decision," Hagel said in the memo. "I will continue to urge that our nation's leaders reach an agreement to reduce the deficit and de-trigger sequestration."
The Pentagon estimates that it will need to cut $37 billion in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, down from $41 billion previously projected in sequestration cuts, after the White House Office of Management and Budget completed recalculations based on a spending bill passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama on March 26.
Hagel said that he "can't guarantee" that defense workers will be spared more furloughs next year if sequestration continues.
While most of the federal government received stopgap funding that continued at the previous year's levels, the Pentagon won more flexibility through inclusion of a full appropriations measure.
Based on the revised funding, Pentagon officials said in March that they would reduce planned furloughs to 14 days through September from the 22 days previously estimated, with the goal of saving $2.5 billion from the unpaid leave.