Pentagon laying off 46,000 staff

Pentagon building in Washington, DC on 26 December 2011 The Pentagon building in Washington

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The US defence department says it has begun laying off most of its 46,000 temporary employees, as automatic defence budget cuts loom in March.

Deputy Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said the Pentagon was acting "because we're running out of time" to absorb potential changes to their budget.

$50bn (£32bn) in cuts are due this year under the so-called fiscal cliff.

Lawmakers made a last-minute deal on 1 January to put them off for two months, but the ultimate outcome is undecided.

Mr Carter said he was directing each military service to produce detailed plans by 1 February on reducing short-term spending.

He also said the Pentagon could force its 800,000 civilian employees to lose one day of work per week without pay from April, in a move that would save $5bn.

The Pentagon and other parts of the US government face across-the-board cuts on 1 March, with an estimated $500bn decrease in the defence budget over 10 years.

The US defence department unveiled a strategy in early 2012 designed to accommodate at least $450bn in Pentagon cuts over the next decade, as the country winds down the Afghanistan war.

The automatic reductions due in March would be in addition to these savings.

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