PORTSMOUTH A top defense official says workers at the Navy's four public shipyards could be given a special exemption from budget-related furloughs.

Civilian workers at public shipyards, like the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, could be spared from forced days off without pay, according to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley. He testified in Congress this week that furloughing shipyard workers would be harmful.

'Everyone understands that the shipyards are a special case in terms of direct impact on readiness,' he said.

It's estimated 39,000 such employees could be affected in Hampton Roads.

Emily 'Cookie' Harris is chairperson for the Tidewater Federal Metal Workers Trade Council, which represents about 4,000 of the roughly 9,000 Norfolk Naval Shipyard workers. She told 13News Friday she is hopeful shipyard workers are exempted from layoffs.

'Oh, that is good news,' she said by phone.

Stackley said the Navy is considering exempting shipyard employees because the furloughs either would 'directly impact readiness or the remedy is creating more problems than it is solving.'

Stackley suggested it would cost taxpayers more money in the long run to delay ship repairs, than it would save to furlough workers.

'It would be more than a one for one impact if you impose the degree of disruption that occurs to a ship's maintenance or modernization schedule at the shipyards,' he said.

Stackley also said that even if furloughs are required, the Pentagon could exclude civilian employees whose jobs directly affect the Navy's ability to carry out its mission, and, 'Shipyards are in that mix.'

Under sequestration, up to 800,000 civilian Department of Defense employees across the country could face furloughs. Originally it was supposed to be for 22 days. That was reduced to 14 and then reduced again to 7.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said three weeks ago the Pentagon would present a final furlough plan within two to three weeks. So far, that still has not happened.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) told 13News Friday 'This is encouraging news. I met with Secretary Hagel this week and one of the issues we discussed was giving our Service Secretaries, and other Agency and installation heads the ability to reduce furlough days below 14 days. Our shipyard workers are vital to our defense industrial base and furloughs would likely end up costing us more in the long run, not to mention the direct impact on readiness.'

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