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Navy, employees planning for unpaid leave

The Department of Defense initially anticipated that federal civilian workers might see 22 days of furloughs. Earlier this week, that number was reduced to 11 days, starting July 8 and lasting through the fiscal year.

News that federal workers actually will see pay cuts has leaders at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station taking additional steps to help employees make it through the strain.

The Naval Air Systems Command has 24,299 people onboard. Of them, only 500 people, or 2 percent of the workforce, will be exempted from the furloughs, spokesperson Amy Behrman wrote in an email.

Those exempt include workers funded by foreign military sales, those deployed with the military or paid by a non-appropriated fund, according to an earlier command memo before the number of furlough days was set.

NAVAIR Commander Vice Adm. David Dunaway and Garry Newton, deputy commander, have established an internal blog, allowing employees to ask questions and make comments. That forum, Behrman said, provides leadership insight into what employees’ concerns are, so that they can be addressed. The command has offered financial planning classes and created an internal website, which contains furlough fact sheets, and savings plans, health insurance and leave information from the Office of Personnel Management, DoD, the Department of Navy and NAVAIR, Behrman said. A support team also is available to employees who want to ask questions or make suggestions, she said.

NAVAIR is a tenant command, using spaces at Pax River. There also are about 230 federal employees, working directly for the air station, who also will be affected by the furloughs, said Capt. Ben Shevchuk, Pax River commanding officer. Those 230 workers include security forces, workers in morale, welfare and recreation programs, public works and administrative staff, making up an “incredibly talented and dedicated” workforce, he said.

Shevchuk said Pax River has been working on schedules with tenant commands, such as NAVAIR, to “determine the best way to accomplish our mission with a furlough in place for the remainder of the fiscal year.”

While the number of furlough days was reduced from 22 to 11, “it still leaves them with a 20 percent reduction in pay for the remainder of the fiscal year,” Shevchuk said. “We appreciate the significant financial hardship furloughs will have on our civilian workforce and their families,” he said.

Federal civilian defense workers will be furloughed for as many as 11 days beginning in July, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said this week.

Hagel’s announcement comes after months of waiting and confusion for federal workers that began even before the sequester kicked in March 1, bringing large cuts to this year’s Pentagon budget.

The unpaid furlough days are expected to begin July 8 and may last through the rest of the fiscal year. Most personnel will be furloughed one day per week for as many as 11 weeks. That will equal a 20 percent cut in pay during that time.

“If our budgetary situation permits us to end furloughs early, I would strongly prefer to do so. That is a decision I will make later in the year,” Hagel wrote in a memo dated Tuesday. Federal defense workers will begin receiving official notification of the furloughs May 28.

The average salary for Pax River federal workers is $105,508, and reflects an abundance of senior workers, or employees in top pay grades. Middle-income earners at Pax River take home salaries between $42,000 and $67,000 a year. Lower pay grades can be $27,000 a year or less, according to an Office of Personnel Management chart describing salaries of federal workers in the Washington metropolitan area.

For people bringing home smaller incomes, “that’s going to affect their ability to make a car payment, their ability to make a mortgage payment,” said Joseph Flynn, a vice president with the American Federation of Government Employees. Some have kids in school and have to pay tuition. “It’s going to be disruptive,” he said. “There’s no question about it.”

Flynn said AFGE has been in negotiations with government leaders to allow employees to decide when they take those furlough days. But, his biggest fear is that the pay cuts will last beyond the end of the fiscal year. “I’ve got a feeling we’ve only seen a small piece of it,” Flynn said.

St. Mary’s County has been bracing for the impact, said Steve Anderson, director of community and economic development. County leaders have put aside reserve funds and have been meeting with leaders in the defense industry to stay informed. The only thing St. Mary’s can do now “is wait and see,” Anderson said. “God forbid this goes another year.”