For many Americans, sequestration was most relevant before it was even enacted—when the partisan brawls to negotiate an alternative consumed the media and the national dynamic. This week, however, some 650,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense will endure the infamous furloughs that Republicans and Democrats alike promised would ensue if sequestration were to go into effect. It appears that, in this rare instance, both parties will be able to honor their promises.
The 650,000 DoD employees (a majority of whom are American) who will be affected by the spending cuts will, beginning Monday, reluctantly take their first of 11 days off this summer. These workers will essentially lose one workday a week, and consequently one day's wages a week, a salary cut that will amount to 20 percent of their summer earnings.
Defense Department cuts will ultimately total $37 billion in the 2013 fiscal year, which ends September 30. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel notes that "The majority of [the budget cuts] is going to come out of contractors — about $2 billion will come out of furloughs."
The income losses that furloughed workers anticipate will undoubtedly burden them and their families. It is an issue that will affect citizens in almost every U.S. state — Vermont will see the fewest furloughs with 490 and Virginia will see the most with 72,000. Moreover, with similar spending cuts scheduled for 2014, it is possible that this is not the last summer that DoD employees will be forced to stay home once a week.
And while there are indeed foreign DoD employees who will endure similarly to their American counterparts, it appears that U.S. civilian workers will suffer the brunt of the implications.
German DoD employees will actually see a pay increase this year. Because of a union agreement, the U.S. government will fork up an initial 500 euros to 19,000 German employees, a bonus that is coupled with an additional 30 euros a month. This is a pay hike that will cost the Department of Defense about $16 million.
Although the German branch will be the only of the overseas DoD offices to receive a raise, international law will protect 37 overseas commissaries from closing on furlough days. All local staff members — effectively all non-Americans — will be exempt from the spending cuts' consequences.
It is reassuring that the U.S. government was able to scrape together the necessary funds to comply with international law and not furlough foreign workers. That said, it is concerning that the U.S. government was unable to do so for its own workers — and taxpayers. The threat of international law is indeed a compelling stimulant. An equally compelling stimulant for the government, however, ought to be a sense of responsibility to govern and legislate in the best interests of the people who they represent.