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Defense Dept. will furlough civilian employees

WASHINGTON — After weeks of debate and number-crunching, the Defense Department announced plans Tuesday to furlough about 680,000 of its civilian employees for 11 days through the end of this fiscal year, allowing only limited exceptions for the military to avoid or reduce the unpaid days off.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in a memo to the department, called the decision ‘‘an unpleasant set of choices’’ between furloughing workers or cutting training and flight operations.

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And during a town hall meeting with about 6,400 department personnel in Northern Virginia, Hagel was direct: ‘‘I tried everything. We did everything we could not to get to this day this way. But that’s it. That’s where we are.’’

Telling the workers, he was sorry, Hagel said that after repeatedly going over the number, officials could not responsibly cut any deeper into training and other programs that affect the military’s readiness for combat. He added, ‘‘We’ll continue to search for ways to do better, but right now I can’t run this institution into the ditch.’’

Hagel said that the department will be evaluating the budget situation over time and will try to end the furloughs early if possible. But he and other officials also warned that while they will do all they can to avoid furloughs in the next fiscal year, they can’t promise it won’t happen.

The furlough notices are expected to begin going out May 28, and workers will have several days to respond or seek appeals. The unpaid days off would begin no sooner than July 8, according to the memo. Officials said the furloughs will save the department about $1.8 billion.

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