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Air Force civilians essential to mission; furloughs last resort

12/5/2007 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- With the Army announcing possibly civilian layoffs this month, Air Force leaders want civilian Air Force members to know they are monitoring the situation closely.

"The Air Force does not view the possibility of civilian workforce furlough as an imminent issue," said Air Force officials. "While the Air Force continues to be fiscally challenged, the personnel budget is such that it would not become a pressing concern for some months.

"Our civilian workforce is essential to mission success, and the Air Force would carefully examine alternative courses of action prior to diminishing the quality of our workforce through a civilian furlough initiative," officials said.

Some Army civilian employees may get layoff notices before Christmas, because $178 billion in emergency funds have not yet been approved to continue the war on terror, a senior Defense Department official said today.

President Bush called on Congress twice publicly this week to pass an emergency funding bill, but has vowed to veto any bill that imposes a mandatory troop withdrawal date.

Some members of Congress have responded by saying the Pentagon has funds to continue operations through March, but a Pentagon spokesman today said furlough notices for Army employees could start going out the middle of this month. The employees would not be furloughed until after Christmas, but some contracts require a 60-day notice if the furlough will be longer than 60 days, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters at the Pentagon. The department is using fiscal 2008 funds - not part of the supplemental funding needed - to keep operations going in the war on terror, he explained.

"Anyone who thinks that this is not a serious situation is simply misinformed or is ignoring the facts. We have tried to be as matter of fact as we can on this, but the reality is that we are using our program budget for FY 08 ... to fund our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan," Whitman said.

DoD is using its readiness funding, or operations and maintenance accounts, which typically pay for training, supplies, and maintenance of weapons and equipment.

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates requested to shift $3.7 billion from Navy and Air Force payrolls and an $800 million excess in the working capital fund to Army and Marine Corps operations.

If funding continues to be delayed, it could affect as many as 200,000 civilian employees and contractors, DoD officials reported earlier.

"In mid-February, the Army will run out of all of their O&M funding for the entire year, because they will have spent it on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. That will require some fairly significant and harsh actions by the department, specifically the Army. And the Marine Corps is only about a month behind them," Whitman said.

Military installations soon will have to shut down operations and furlough civilian employees, terminate contracts, and move into what Whitman called a "warm" status.

"Facts are the facts. We're trying to keep people as well informed as we can, but anybody that thinks that we have sufficient funding to go beyond what we have stated is just either misinformed or electing not to examine the facts," he said.

(Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press Service, contributed to this article)

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