(AIR FORCE TIMES) -- Civilian employees will be among the first to feel the belt-tightening as theDefense Department prepares for the likelihood of severe budget reductions thisyear.

The Air Force, Army and Navy are freezing civilian hiring, laying offtemporary workers and considering furloughs for hundreds of thousands ofcivilian employees, according to memos from leaders of all three branches of theservice.

"Civilian pay makes up a large share of our operating budget and we have beendirected to consider the possibility of civilian furloughs up to 30 calendardays or 22 discontinuous workdays," wrote Gen. Larry Spencer, the Air Force'svice chief of staff, and Jamie Morin, the service's acting under secretary, in athe Jan. 14 memo to leaders of all major commands.

In a similar memo, Rear Adm. J.P. Mulloy, deputy assistant secretary forbudget, told Navy commanders the furloughs, if carried out, would occur one dayper week beginning the week of April 16 and lasting through the end of thefiscal year on Sept. 30.

"If implemented, civilian furloughs will be centrally managed and will be agovernmentwide effort with limited exceptions," Mulloy wrote in the Jan. 14memo.

The Defense Logistics Agency formally notified its union Jan. 16 that unpaidfurloughs of up to 22 days for virtually all civilian staff may be neededbetween April and the end of the fiscal year.

The wave of memos comes less than a week after Deputy Defense SecretaryAshton Carter told the department leaders Jan. 10 to plan for the possibility ofa yearlong continuing resolution that would generally leave 2013 spending frozenat last year's levels, as well as for across-the-board budget cuts set to takeeffect at the beginning of March assuming that Congress and the Obamaadministration don't strike a deal to head them off. The cuts, formally known assequestration, would take about 9 percent out of most Defense Departmentaccounts by the end of the fiscal year in September, according to an analysis bythe Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a private think tank ondefense issues. Military personnel would be exempted.

"If we did not act now, the scale of reductions required should sequestrationbe triggered on March 1 or the department were left under a yearlong continuingresolution would be even more devastating for readiness," Spencer and Morinsaid.

Should sequestration occur, however, "immediate actions with serious negativeimpacts to core readiness programs will be required," the memo said.

As of September, the Air Force had 171,000 civilian employees, the about Army277,000 and the Navy almost 200,000, according to the most recent Office ofPersonnel Management data.

At DLA, with a civilian workforce of more than 25,000, furloughs "may benecessary" for all employees except those deployed "in support of contingencyoperations in the [Central Command] area of responsibility," Brad Bunn, theagency's human resources director, wrote in a Jan. 16 letter to the president ofthe American Federation of Government Employees council that represents manyworkers there. DLA also is considering other measures "to mitigate harmfuleffects to current DLA employees" resulting from budget uncertainties, Bunnadded without elaborating.