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Defense jobs still not safe from automatic cuts

Congress averted the fiscal cliff with a last-minute tax deal, but thousands of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base civilian defense workers haven’t escaped the prospect of facing furloughs, officials said.

Lawmakers postponed the budget reductions, known as sequestration, until March, a temporary reprieve from the $500 billion in defense cuts over the next decade that were set to start this week.

Reductions to the defense budget could be deeper in the months ahead, too, with only seven months left in the fiscal year if the cuts begin in two months, officials said. President Barack Obama has exempted uniform service members from manpower reductions, but not the Department of Defense’s 800,000-civilian employee workforce.

Buying time

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the additional two months could be enough time to develop a deficit reduction plan to “permanently prevent these arbitrary cuts.”

“Congress has prevented the worst possible outcome by delaying the sequestration for two months,” Panetta said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the cloud of sequestration remains. The responsibility now is to eliminate it as a threat by enacting a balanced deficit reduction. Congress cannot continue to just kick the can down the road.”

Sequestration reductions would be in addition to the $487 billion in spending reductions the Pentagon will absorb over the next 10 years.

Union urges members to lobby congress

The American Federal Government Employees Council 214 has told its more than 35,000 members who work at the Air Force Materiel Command nationwide to lobby congressional leaders to reach a sequestration deal, said Troy Tingley, AFGE council president.

AFMC, headquartered at Wright-Patterson, has nearly 10,000 civilian employees at the base, according to the most recent figures available. A 2011 economic analysis showed 29,700 military and civilian workers assigned to the sprawling Miami Valley installation with 16,576 federal civilian workers and 3,775 contractor and private business employees.

“If sequestration goes into effect without any congressional impact, as far as trying to lessen the cuts, we see employees being on furloughs from (the) Social Security (Administration) to the Department of Defense to the Department of Homeland Security,” Tingley said in a telephone interview from his office at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

He said the union has told employees to save money to prepare for the possibility of unpaid time off.

“The concern of job cuts is always out there,” he said. “The advice we’ve given employees is you’ve got to take this serious.”

Circumstances remain unchanged

Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs in Washington, D.C., said the circumstances remain unchanged, only with a new deadline.

“If Congress fails to act, then the Defense Department faces draconian budget cuts that will be implemented generally across the board and not subject to any orderly process,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon was analyzing what the congressional action meant.

“We’re still figuring things out this morning,” Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in an email. “Yes, if sequestration occurs in March, we will have to obtain savings within the remaining seven months of the year which will be that much more difficult.”

Waiting game

Deborah Gross, executive director of the Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association, said she was “happy” both political parties reached a compromise to avoid an increase for most Americans on income taxes, but upset with the continued defense budget uncertainty.

She called the situation “outrageous” and “irresponsible.”

“It was never intended to happen and now here we are facing having this hang over our heads another two months,” she said.

“As businesses, we still are living in this unknown,” she said. “We can’t grow with any certainty, we can’t hire with any certainty because we don’t know what will happen.”

“Now,” she said, “we’re back in the waiting game.”

Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Budgetary and Strategic Assessments in Washington, D.C., has said money already obligated on contracts is exempt from sequestration, but new contracts, or options and extensions would be reduced by about 10 percent across the board. A reduction in the contractor workforce would occur gradually over months and years, he has said in an email.

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