FORT HOOD — After six weeks of furloughs, Jackie Lund is ready to get back to her full-time work schedule.
“I got used to having that extra day off, but my paycheck came around and it was like sticker shock,” said the cashier at Fort Hood’s Warrior Way Commissary.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Aug. 6 the furlough of the department’s estimated 800,000 civilian employees would end early — with each employee being furloughed six days instead of the 11 announced May 14.
Monday marks the end of the furloughs for most of the 6,000 civilians working at Fort Hood, and services are expected to return to 97 percent capability, said Andy Bird, Fort Hood’s deputy garrison commander.
Most services will return to pre-furlough hours in the coming weeks.
The remaining 3 percent is spread across various departments as people hired since the furloughs began July 8 also need to meet the requirement of six furlough days.
“Fort Hood employees made tremendous effort during the furlough to continue the same quality of service and support, and we greatly appreciate the patience and understanding by our customers during these challenging times,” he said.
Fort Hood’s two commissaries will return to operating six days a week today.
Saving the dough
Lund, a 30-year employee of the Defense Commissary Agency, said she changed the amount of money withheld from her paycheck to her retirement plan to prepare for the furloughs, but now that they are over, she’s going back to saving money.
“I just wanted to make sure I had enough,” Lund said. “I’m just glad it’s over. I think the customers didn’t like it.”
To celebrate, the store is hosting a “Sequester Bust Sale” on Monday, offering up to 60 percent off select items, said Beth Adams, Warrior Way store director.
“We’re ready to get back in business and take care of the customers who take care of us,” she said.
While many customers remained loyal, she said the biggest complaint with furloughs was that it meant both commissaries were closed on Monday.
Other issues were longer checkout lines and stocking delays.
One thing that didn’t waver, Adams said, was the customer service provided by her employees.
“Some people were frustrated or hurting, but they didn’t let it reflect on their customer service,” Adams said.
‘Time of adversity’
Charles Green, director of Fort Hood’s Directorate of Human Resources, said he saw similar resilience in his team.
“As a director, I’m so proud of what these folks have done in this time of adversity,” he said. “Their attitudes did not waver.”
He did warn that even though most employees will be back to work full-time, things won’t instantly go back to normal.
“Because of the backlog that accumulated based on the condensed work schedule, there will be a little delay in getting it back to completely normal,” Green said.
Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center will return to pre-furlough hours Friday, with the exception of the Weekend Acute Care Clinic, which will remain closed.
That decision was made after taking a hard look at the bottom line and anticipated long-term budget cuts, said Col. Patricia Darnauer, hospital commander.
“At this point in time, it was determined the (weekend clinic) couldn’t be sustained,” she said in a statement. “In order to maintain our stringent standards of care during this challenging time, we need to embrace changes that have the least impact on direct patient care.”
The Robertson Blood Center, which was closed on Thursday to accommodate furloughs, will return to normal hours, hospital officials said.
“Above all, I want to thank our beneficiaries for their patience and continued support during these trying times,” Darnauer said. “Our fiscal environment is changing, but we will work to remain flexible, adaptable and responsible to continue to meet our patients’ health care needs.”
Hagel said a large reprogramming proposal submitted to Congress in May and approved in late July played a role in ending the furloughs early.
“We are also experiencing less-than-expected costs in some areas, such as transportation of equipment out of Afghanistan. Where necessary, we have taken aggressive action to transfer funds among services and agencies. And the furloughs have saved us money,” he said.
The 11-day furlough was expected to save the Pentagon $1.8 billion to make up for budget shortfalls caused by sequestration.
Hagel said furloughs could be possible next year if Congress doesn’t stop sequestration’s across-the-board budget cuts over the next decade. The law will force the department to cut an additional $52 billion in fiscal year 2014, which starts Oct. 1.
“This represents 40 percent more than this year’s sequester-mandated cuts of $37 billion. Facing this uncertainty, I cannot be sure what will happen next year, but I want to assure our civilian employees that we will do everything possible to avoid more furloughs,” Hagel said.