Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has delayed sending furlough notices to its civilian employees for two weeks while it studies legislation that would give it more flexibility in spending its budget for the rest of the year, according to a memo released Thursday.
The House passed a bill that will extend funding for the federal government -- a continuing resolution -- until the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. That measure contains provisions that would allow the Pentagon to shift several billion dollars in its accounts to its highest priorities.
One likely effect of the delayed notification to its 800,000 employees, a majority of whom are expected to be put on unpaid leave, is that they will be furloughed fewer than the 22 days originally anticipated.
However, Jessica Wright, undersecretary of Defense for personnel, said in the memo that the delay could have "some impact" on the number of furlough days, but no decision has been made. Wright and Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale will make their recommendations about future spending decisions to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the memo said.
"This delay will allow the department to carefully analyze the impact of pending continuing resolution legislation on the department's resources," Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement.
The Pentagon is taking the largest hit from sequestration, automatic budget cuts that began March 1, and the reliance on a continuing resolution, which locks in spending decisions from last year. In all, the Defense Department expects to need to cut $47 billion from its budget by the end of the fiscal year.
The delay means that furloughs could not begin until about May 5, said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman. Furloughs require notification of 30 days. The Pentagon has estimated that the furloughs would save as much as $5 billion.
The legislation being considered would allow the Pentagon the authority to shift about $4 billion in its accounts to its highest priorities.
The cuts from sequestration and the continuing resolution, military and congressional leaders have warned, will require steep reductions in training, flying and sailing. Those reductions would leave troops less prepared to fight. Budget watchers, however, have questioned how dire the effects will be.