With lawmakers unable to approve a deal that would have averted steep spending cuts, Pentagon officials said Monday that 800,000 civilian employees could be ordered to go on unpaid leave for periods of time.
The military’s service chiefs, who have already been making cuts as part of a separate, long-term effort to whittle down the defense budget, are working to assess the impact of the congressionally mandated cuts. The broad fiscal retrenchment would begin Wednesday, although it is possible that lawmakers will find ways in coming weeks to allocate separate funding for the Pentagon and avoid the furloughs.
“Senior leaders in the department are working hard on how to communicate to the workforce what the consequences might be,” a senior defense official said Monday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s contingency planning.
Neither party wants to see a dramatic drop in defense spending.
During a recent trip to Kuwait, Afghanistan and Turkey, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told U.S. service members that he was deeply worried about the effect the cuts could have on national security and military readiness. The Pentagon would have to slash $500 billion over the next decade on top of cuts it has been working toward as the country eases off a war footing, Panetta said.