Federal Department of Defense workers earned a reprieve this week when Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday that the required number of furlough days would be reduced from 11 to six.
Hagel initially said in mid-May that civilian DoD workers would have to take 11 unpaid days off as part of the Pentagon's $40 billion sequester, or forced federal spending cuts, according to CNNMoney.
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Since July 8, nearly 650,000 defense employees have been taking one unpaid day off each week, but the new reduction means most of them will meet their furlough requirements by August 17, the Washington Post reported.
"Thanks to the DoD's efforts to identify savings and help from Congress, we will reduce the total numbers of furlough days for DoD civilian employees," Hagel said in a statement. "I regret the difficulties they and their families had to face during this furlough period."
It's not clear what changed for officials to reduce the number of furlough days, but Hagel said it was a combination of Congressional funding and Pentagon "budget management efforts."
"Congress has approved most of a large reprogramming request that we submitted in mid-May, giving us flexibility to move funds across accounts," Hagel wrote in a memo. "The military services have been aggressive in identifying ways to hold down costs, and we have been successful in shifting savings (including furlough savings) to meet our highest priority needs."
The American Federation of Government Employees, one of the largest labor unions that represents civilian defense workers, was pleased with Hagel's announcement.
"AFGE has argued from the start that the Department of Defense furloughs were always the worst possible way for the department to absorb sequestration's cuts," J. David Cox, union president, said in a statement. "The secretary's announcement suggests that he has finally realized that furloughs are costly in terms of dollars, readiness, and morale."
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