By: Lisa Rein

The Washington Post

More than 700,000 civilian defense workers will be forced to take 14 days of furloughs instead of 22 between April and the end of the fiscal year, officials said, softening the blow of the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.pentagon

The decision Wednesday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel comes a week after the Pentagon announced it was delaying final furlough notices to its civilian workforce until April 5 so budget experts could analyze whether the stopgap budget passed by Congress could avert some of the unpaid leave. The new plan was first reported by the Associated Press.

The unpaid time off still leaves the military with among the largest number of furloughs of all federal employees to result from sequestration.

The budget, known as a continuing resolution, gives the Defense Department some flexibility to carry out the cuts. The military is absorbing half of the $85 million reduction across the government between March 1 and Sept. 30.

Defense officials had said for weeks that civilians would be required to take one day a week off with pay for 22 weeks starting in late April. That amounted to a 20 percent pay cut for five months.

The continuing resolution did not give the Pentagon more money, but it allowed the agency to shift $10.4 billion into its operations and maintenance accounts, which pay civilian salaries. Active duty personnel are exempt from the cuts.

Officials have been meeting over the past week to see if they could reduce the furlough days from the 22 they have said for weeks would be necessary to meet the spending cuts.

Under the new plan, according to the Associated Press, the 14 unpaid days would start in June, not late April, as originally planned. Some civilians, such as those serving in war zones and in critical public safety jobs, will be exempt, although defense officials have not said how many.

While some military services can considered eliminating the furloughs altogether, senior leaders concluded that it would be more fair to treat all civilians across the defense department equally.

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