The U.S. Defense Department says it will begin laying off thousands of temporary civilian employees to prepare for possible across-the-board federal spending cuts.
The Pentagon's deputy defense secretary, Ashton Carter, says the department is already beginning to eliminate many of its 46,000 temporary and contract employees. He says the Pentagon is also planning for furloughs for its permanent civilian staff and to defer maintenance on weapons and other military equipment.
The Pentagon is facing nearly $50 billion in cuts this year unless the U.S. Congress can agree on an alternative package of spending reductions. The cuts are set to go into effect on March 1.
The Associated Press reports that Carter says the proposed cuts could hurt the war effort in Afghanistan. The White House says it wants to shield the military's combat missions from any budget reductions. Carter, however, says that deferring maintenance on weapons and other military equipment will eventually erode the combat fitness of military units in Afghanistan.
The large, automatic spending cuts, which include reductions in domestic spending, are called "sequestration" and are required under a deficit reduction agreement reached in 2011.
The cuts were to go into effect at the end of last year, but Congress delayed them for another two months in order to try to come up with an alternative plan.
Both Democratic and Republican members of Congress agree on the need to cut federal spending. But the two sides have been at odds over how to carry out a plan.