WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon is moving to ease the pain of mandatory, unpaid furloughs that civilian employees have had to bear for a month because of budgetary pressures, cutting the number of days off from 11 to six, The Associated Press has learned.
Officials say the Pentagon found sufficient savings in the final months of the current fiscal year to lessen the burden on those who have had to take a day off a week without pay since early July. Officials said last week that they would need to find about $900 million in savings in order to eliminate five of the 11 furlough days.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel approved the final numbers this week after meeting with top leaders. Officials discussed this situation only if granted anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about it publicly.
The decision came as about 650,000 civilian workers began their fifth week of furloughs, which have riled department employees and prompted many to complain directly to Hagel during his visits to military bases in recent weeks.
Hagel has been saying that budget people were trying to find savings to shorten the furlough time. But officials also have cautioned that the savings are for this year only, and won't affect likely budget cuts in 2014, if Congress doesn't act to avoid automatic, across-the-board cuts slated for next year.
The 11 furlough days were expected to save roughly $2 billion.
Officials said the savings are the result of a number of things, including penny-pinching by the military services and Congress' decision to give the Pentagon more flexibility in moving money around between accounts. They indicated that budget crunchers moved money from lower priority accounts in order to free up money to reduce the furloughs and provide additional resources to other programs that directly affect the military's readiness for combat.
About 85 percent of the department's civilians have been subject to furloughs. The bulk of the exempt employees are foreign nationals or workers not paid through appropriated funding. Nearly 7,000 defense intelligence workers are also exempt, along with about 29,000 workers at Navy shipyards, where officials worried that the harm to shop maintenance would end up costing more than the salary cuts would save.