Defense Secretary Leon Panetta assured his civilian staff that they would not lose their jobs immediately if Democrats and Republicans fail to avoid going over the fiscal cliff — but layoffs might come eventually.

Panetta assured DOD staff that the spending cuts entailed in sequestration would not take effect immediately, though they would lower the department budget for the year.

“This means that we will not be executing any immediate civilian personnel actions, such as furloughs,” Panetta wrote in a memo today. “Should we have to operate under reduced spending levels for an extended period of time, we may have to consider furloughs or other actions in the future.”

Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said that this means “Everyone will show up for work on January 3, 2013, and continue to drive on,” per the Armed Forces Press Service.

Panetta promised to keep civilian staff updated on the prospect of layoffs.”The Defense Department is already reducing its budget by $487 billion over 10 years,” the AFPS explains. “The Budget Control Act calls for a further $500 billion in cuts at DOD unless Congress and the administration pass a new law averting it.”