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Pentagon considers hiring freeze, contract delays

Lolita c. Baldor, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says he is asking his department to begin taking steps to freeze civilian hiring, delay some contract awards and curtail some maintenance to prepare for drastic budget cuts if Congress can't reach an agreement on a final spending plan.

Panetta says department officials must take precautionary steps and begin planning for unpaid furloughs.

The Pentagon chief says he is asking defense leaders to make their actions reversible if possible and to minimize harmful effects on military readiness. But he says the department must prepare for the worst.

The Pentagon is facing a spending reduction of nearly $500 billion over a decade. An additional $110 billion in cuts to military and domestic programs will take effect in early March if no agreement is reached.