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Department of Defense civilian employees, who were bracing for furlough notices to be issued today, have been given a two-week reprieve.

Naval Air Systems Command leadership had already communicated with their workers via email Thursday morning, explaining the details of a pending 20 percent reduction in pay.

But now furlough notices — at least as of press deadline Thursday — are scheduled to be issued to Department of Defense federal workers on or around April 5.

“We believe the delay is a responsible step to take in order to assure our civilian employees that we do not take lightly the prospect of furloughs and the resulting decrease in employee pay,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said, according to the American Forces Press Service.

The delay may be associated with Congress’ movement toward an agreement to adjust federal spending levels through Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year, avoiding a government shutdown that could have taken place at the end of March without their intervention.

If the furloughs do ultimately go forward, more than 24,000 federal employees at the Naval Air Systems Command alone would be affected by shorter work weeks. Federal employees who work for other entities at Pax River, including the Navy depot for fleet readiness, family services, the health center and the commissary could also be affected by furloughs, if they go into effect.

If they do occur, this would be the first time the government implemented planned civilian furloughs. Seminars, including one Thursday, have been held at Pax River to help workers plan for the financial hardship and stress that will come with the changes. Up to 22 furlough days have been discussed.

The Department of Defense has estimated that it could save $4 billion to $5 billion this fiscal year by furloughing approximately 750,000 of their 800,000 workers. If sequestration and the reduced spending levels continue long-term, DoD fiscal and personnel officers have warned that they would be forced to consider a smaller military, a revised defense plan and a smaller civilian workforce.

NAVAIR has said that only about 488 employees would be exempt from the furloughs, under the current guidelines.

Exemptions would include federal workers employed fully by the foreign military sales trust fund, civilians deployed in combat zones and those in service abroad. Federal temporary employees and workers hired for a specified term in the Department of Defense have been told to expect layoffs.

Those serving actively in the military are not affected by the furloughs.

If furloughs do occur, the impact on many employees, especially those who are making about $40,000 a year, would be significant, said Joseph Flynn, national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “They are not making corporate salaries,” he said.

In Maryland, the largest bases in the state are in Aberdeen, Fort Meade and at Pax River, Flynn said, and the impact of these salary cuts will be felt in the surrounding communities, as people on moderate salaries wouldn’t have enough cash reserve to spend on retail and other services as the furloughs hit.

“The employee is going to get hit hard and I guarantee the local economy is going to get hit,” Flynn said.

Meeting mortgages and other family expenses will be difficult for some if the furloughs come, said St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R).

The commissioners “are well aware of these implications” and are working to establish a firm budget that won’t require local tax increases, he said.

They’re also taking measures to provide salary raises for county employees, the sheriff’s department and teachers, he said.

We know this is going to be a long haul and the ramifications will be slow,” he said.

“Hang in there,” Morgan said. “We’re all in this together.”

nclark@somdnews.com