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Pentagon delays furlough decision, analyzing funding bill

By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon has decided to delay for two weeks a decision on how much of its 800,000-strong civilian workforce will be put on unpaid leave as a result of $46 billion in additional budget cuts this year, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.

Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Robbins said the decision was delayed for two weeks to give the Defense Department time to analyze the impact of a 2013 fiscal year funding measure approved by Congress that is now before President Barack Obama.

"We are enthusiastic that the bill that is before the president appropriates defense funds and increases the amount of funding in our operations and maintenance account," Robbins said.

"This relieves somewhat the pressure that we have been under and may allow us to reduce the number of furlough days we must impose on our civilian work force," she added.

The Pentagon has warned that the additional budget cuts that went into effect on March 1 under a process known as sequestration would force it to put most of its civilian work force on unpaid leave for the maximum allowable 22 days between late April and the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

The department had planned to direct workers to take a day off per week for 22 weeks, effectively cutting their pay by about 20 percent.

Furlough notices had been due to go out on Friday. Defense officials had been working to finalize how many workers would be exempted due to the critical nature of their work.

Officials have said they expected some 80 percent of the work force would be put on unpaid leave. A final decision on that issue is now on hold as the Pentagon analyzes the impact of the measure passed by Congress.

The funding bill for the rest of this fiscal year, approved by the Republican-led House of Representatives on Thursday and the Democratic-led Senate on Wednesday, keeps in place $85 billion in automatic spending cuts known as the "sequester," half of which affects defense.

But it takes some of the sting out of those cuts by allowing the military and several domestic agencies to shift some money within their reduced budgets to higher priority activities.

(Reporting By David Alexander; Editing by Todd Eastham)

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