WASHINGTON -- After the House's passage of a bill to prevent furloughs of Defense Department civilian employees in the coming budget year, a coalition of employee groups has called on Congress to take the further step of stopping the current furloughs.
The House's action "doesn't change the fact that more than 600,000 civilian DoD workers are still facing furloughs one day each week through September 30 due to the impacts of sequestration," Bruce Moyer, chairman of the Federal-Postal Coalition, said in a statement. "Congress should reverse the current situation immediately, and should pass a budget that allows all federal workers and agencies to do their jobs to the fullest."
The coalition consists of 31 federal employee unions and professional associations.
Before approving a spending bill for the Defense Department late Wednesday, the House accepted a series of amendments, including one that would broadly prohibit the Pentagon from using money in the bill to impose sequestration-related furloughs.
A second approved amendment would specifically block furloughs of employees who are paid from a "working capital fund" that does not receive direct funding from appropriations but rather from fees generated by the goods and services sold to other government components. A third would similarly bar furloughs of "dual status" military technicians -- federal employees who also must be members of the National Guard or Reserves.
Because the spending bill affects only the coming fiscal year, however, it would provide no relief in the short run to the roughly 650,000 civilian Defense Department employees who recently began taking 11 unpaid furlough days through the end of September.
In a telephone interview, Moyer said that with Congress set to work only one more week and then take a month-long recess, "It's going to be very difficult to roll back sequestration for the remainder of 2013."
However, he said that the House language "is an important marker for fiscal year 2014" and that during the recess, members of Congress probably will be hearing "expressions of concern of their constituents who are having to absorb pay cuts due to the sequester."
Pentagon officials have warned that if the department's budget continues in fiscal 2014 at post-sequestration levels, they may have to order further furloughs and potentially layoffs.
The amendments do not repeal sequestration or specify how the Pentagon should achieve the required savings in other ways if it stays in place. But a fourth amendment that was accepted would transfer some funds from an Afghanistan account to accounts for employee salaries.
Approval of the broad amendment is "a strong vote of no confidence" in how the department has used furloughs to achieve sequestration savings, American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement.
Further, he said, furloughs of working capital fund employees "save no money for the Department for purposes of sequestration, yet they do drive up their organizations' costs and undermine their productivity."
The Senate has not started drafting a counterpart bill.