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Panetta: Pentagon may shorten workweek

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress Wednesday that, if automatic government spending cuts kick in on March 1, the Pentagon may have to shorten the workweek for the "vast majority" of the Defense Department's 800,000 civilian workers.

They would lose one day of work per week, or 20 percent of their pay, for up to 22 weeks, probably starting in late April.

To dispel the notion that this is mainly a problem for the nation's capital, Pentagon budget chief Robert Hale told reporters that the economic impact would be felt nationwide.

The biggest potential losses, in terms of total civilian payroll dollars, would be in Virginia, California, Maryland, Texas and Georgia, according to figures provided by the Pentagon.

Hale said the unpaid leaves for civilian workers would begin in late April and would save $4 billion to $5 billion if extended through the end of the budget year, Sept. 30.

That is only a fraction of the $46 billion the Pentagon would have to cut this budget year unless a deficit-reduction deal is reached.

Panetta also said the across-the-board spending reductions would "put us on a path toward a hollow force," meaning a military incapable of fulfilling all of its missions.

House Speaker John Boehner put the blame on President Barack Obama and said he agrees with Panetta that automatic spending cuts would devastate the military.

Obama was continuing to pressure Republican lawmakers to avert the automatic cuts by supporting a Senate Democratic plan that would replace the immediate cuts with a mix of spending reductions and tax increases.

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