Defense Department says it will delay furlough notices for civilian employees

The Defense Department will delay furlough notices for its civilian employees for about two weeks while officials analyze the impact of a new spending bill on planned budget cuts, the Pentagon said Thursday.

The delay comes as defense officials continue to wrangle over how many civilians should be exempt from the unpaid leave requirement, including how much of the U.S. intelligence community should be excluded. A senior defense official said Thursday that as much as 10 percent of the department's 800,000 civilian workers overall could be exempt from the furloughs. The official said the exact numbers were still being worked out.

The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the furlough exemption number and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Some of those workers include civilians in the war zone and in critical public safety jobs, as well as people whose jobs are not paid for through congressional funding. As an example, some employees may be contractors or people working in facilities that pay for operations out of their earnings -- such as some recreation jobs or foreign military sales.

Another example would be civilian mariners who are working for the Navy on ships at sea.

Intelligence officials are arguing that a certain number of workers are needed in order to adequately monitor and protect the U.S. from national security threats. Officials will not say, however, how many intelligence workers across the Defense Department or government-wide will be exempt.

The U.S. intelligence community is made up of 16 different organizations, ranging from the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency to the highly secretive National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office. Altogether the agencies have about 100,000 workers.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper has warned that the across-the-board budget cuts would shave about $4 billion from intelligence budgets and would affect operations. He said that collecting intelligence through personal contacts as well as by technical spying would be reduced.

The Pentagon had planned to begin issuing the furlough notices on Friday, but Congress on Thursday approved legislation to keep the government open through the end of September, moving more than $10 billion into Pentagon operations and maintenance accounts. That shift could reduce the number of unpaid furlough days employees would be required to take.

Officials said the extra money is not likely to widen the pool of employees eligible to avoid the furloughs.

In a statement, the Pentagon said no final decisions have been made on whether changes can be made to the number of furlough days. Initially, officials had said civilians would face one furlough day per work week for 22 weeks.

The legislation did not add money but instead shifted funds from investment and acquisition accounts to operations accounts, so that savings would have to be found elsewhere.

The furloughs are because of automatic spending cuts agreed to in a 2011 budget pact.