HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- Civilian employees at Hill Air Force Base got good news Tuesday as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced furlough days have been reduced from 11 to six.
The furlough days had been ordered in May in light of mandated government budget cuts known as sequestration.
The Department of Defense faced shortfalls of more than $30 billion for regular operating costs, Hagel said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
As early as January, DoD leaders began making changes to close the shortfall, including civilian hiring freezes, layoffs of temporary workers and significant cuts in facilities.
The initial furlough period for civilian DoD employees was set at 22 days.
But the department began making sharp cuts to training and maintenance -- the Air Force stopped flying in many squadrons, which included the 4th Fighter Squadron from Hill; the Navy kept ships in port; and the Army canceled training events.
By early May, even after taking these steps, the DoD still faced a day-to-day budgetary shortfall of $11 billion. At that point, a furlough period of 11 days was announced.
Hoping to reduce the furloughs, Hagel and the DoD submitted a large reprogramming proposal to Congress, asking to move funds from acquisition accounts into day-to-day operating accounts. Congress approved most of this request in late July.
Hagel said that, because of the reprogramming approval and lower-than-anticipated costs associated with moving gear from Afghanistan, the department was able to save about $1 billion.
"We've determined that we can make some improvements in training and readiness and still meet the sequestration cuts," Hagel said in a statement.
"The Air Force has begun flying again in key squadrons, the Army has increased funding for organizational training at selected units, and the Navy has restarted some maintenance and ordered deployments that otherwise would not have happened.
"While we are still depending on furlough savings, we will be able to make up our budgetary shortfall in this fiscal year with fewer furlough days than initially announced."
Nearly 11,000 civilian employees at Hill have been taking unpaid furlough days since early July. Nationwide, nearly 700,000 civilian Defense employees have been furloughed.
Hill spokesman Rich Essary said the average salary of those being furloughed at the base is about $67,500.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said that, throughout the sequestration process, there have been indications that furloughs may not actually be necessary and that cuts could be absorbed in other areas.
"Secretary Hagel is validating what many of us thought all along," he said, "that furloughing civilian defense workers, particularly Air Force workers, could have been avoided. Six is certainly better than 22, but zero is the ultimate goal."
The DoD announcement does not affect employees of the Internal Revenue Service, who will face four unpaid furlough days during this fiscal year.