Wing answers furlough questions

by Becca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs

3/15/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Leaders of the 42nd Air Base Wing addressed the question of a civilian employee furlough as a result of sequestration to audiences at Gunter and Maxwell during town hall meetings March 8.

Colonel Trent Edwards, wing commander, said that if furloughs are mandated, Maxwell will work as a team to accomplish this mission.

"The good news is we have not yet implemented a furlough," said Edwards. "And we may not implement a furlough. This issue impacts all of us, every single person in here whether military or civilian. We are all in this together."

There are about 3,000 affected civilian employees on Maxwell-Gunter.

Sequestration, part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, was signed into law by President Barack Obama in an effort to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over a 10-year period. Half of that amount will be taken from the Department of Defense, equaling $528 billion, from which $12-13 billion will be cut from the Air Force by the end of fiscal 2013.

In an effort to reduce operational costs, all civilian DOD employees may be asked to take 22 discontinuous unpaid furlough days, not to exceed 16 hours per pay period. Furloughed employees most likely will not be reimbursed for the unpaid days.

According to officials, the effective dates for furloughs will be April 22 to Sept. 21 at Maxwell.

Personnel are required to receive a 30-day notice before an administrative furlough, and Maxwell must impose furloughs on almost all its civilian employees.

Civilians who are deployed to a combat zone, non-appropriated funded employees or excepted/exempted will not be furloughed. Thus far, only 399 civilian employees have been exempt from possible furloughs Air Force wide.

Teachers at Department of Defense schools on military bases, who are paid on a 10-month pay scale, may also be subject to furloughs, not to be taken during the summer, which may result in either shortened school days or a four-day school week.

Besides a possible 20 percent pay reduction as a result of the furlough days, benefits and leave accruement may also be affected. For instance, annual and sick leave are not earned in the pay period in which an employee has accumulated 80 hours of leave without pay.

Civilian employees will see a reduction in contributions to their Thrift Savings Plan and Federal Employee Retirement System, which are largely based on a percentage of pay. However, if an employee previously set a dollar allotment for such plans or is signed up for other benefits such as vision, dental or life insurance, Donald Comstock, civilian personnel chief, advised them to calculate how a possible furlough will affect them.

"I advise all employees to use their calculator to get an idea of exactly how much pay this is going to hurt you for planning purposes," said Comstock. "When you lose 20 percent of your pay, you need to make sure you have enough money to continue those allotments."

A furlough, however, does not qualify as a "life-changing event" to remove add-on benefits, such as vision or dental insurance, he said.

The day before the town hall meetings, base leadership and labor union representatives met for nine hours and negotiated an agreement. From the negotiations, civilian employees may request which days they want to be furloughed, subject to supervisory approval, which will be based on mission requirements.

Employees will be furloughed 16 hours per pay period but may request more furlough hours each pay period with supervisory permission.

This would enable employees to take fewer furlough hours later on as long as their total equals 176 hours before Sept. 21 and as long as employees do not reach a point where supervisors must require more than 16 hours per pay period.

Employees may also request to split up their required 16 hours of furlough throughout the pay period, as long as it is approved by their supervisor.

Supervisors cannot direct employees to take furlough days on the work day before and the work day after a holiday because employees must work or be in a paid leave status either the work day before or the work day after a holiday to receive holiday pay.

Overtime (paid or compensatory) or credit hours will not be authorized during the furlough, except when necessary to provide safety of life or property. Employees will not be able to work at home, nor can an employer direct them to work when on a furlough.

The compressed work schedule will also be suspended during the furlough and will resume the first pay period after the furlough ends.

Employees can go to the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations to apply for unemployment if they want to apply for unemployment. Employees may also find additional employment as long as there is no conflict with their federal positions.

Edwards said his hope for Maxwell is an atmosphere of transparency as sequestration continues to be debated.

"As soon as we get information, we will give you information," he said. "This is about transparency. I will tell you what we know. The team of folks here will tell you what we know when we know it. This is just planning for the worst-case scenario."

For more information, email the civilian personnel section at or visit