I have been saying for a while now, and will stipulate here again, that the federal budget must be cut, and defense spending, being a big part of the federal budget, must necessarily be a big part of the cuts.
How to go about this . . .
But of course, we won’t do the smart things. So, among the range of remaining alternatives, taking 10% off the top of everything is probably the least bad option among the likely courses of action.
Pursuant to this, there is talk of “furloughs” (i.e., unpaid leave) for civilian personnel. Now, there is always a lot more talk of furloughs than there are actual furloughs. A bit of Googling only found one actual DOD furlough back in 1995-1996, and I think the eventual budget agreement paid the furloughed civilians anyway. I’m not smart enough to predict whether this particular round of furlough talk is just fear mongering (although I’m sure fear mongering is involved), or a warning of things to come.
On the one hand, a furlough would suck. A furlough in the range being discussed -- 3-4 weeks – would suck a lot, but after taxes it’s not as bad as you might think. Having said that, 3-4 weeks of extra vacation could be nice, so its a trade-off. And Pentagon bluster to the contrary, if the furloughs are staggered, the mission will still get done well enough.
Except that the DOD’s decision making process is guaranteed to make the furloughs as unpleasant as possible. Nobody will stand up and say, “okay, we’ll do the furlough.” This was one of the lessons my very first division chief taught me 20+ years ago: any concession will quickly become the new baseline for further negotiations. But the drawback is that since the leadership refuses to plan for a furlough, we employees can’t plan for one either. We will likely learn about the furloughs the night before they go into effect. We won’t know for how long, and we’ll have to stand by the phone every evening to find out if we can come in to work the next day. And get this: the furlough days will be “non-consecutive”. A day here, a day there: no taking the two weeks off in Florida.
That’s what makes this process so painful watch, let alone go through. Nobody – not the politicians, not service secretaries and chiefs – will make a decision until the absolute last possible minute. Guaranteeing maximum pain for the rest of us.