The looming threat of another round of budget sequester cuts could mean more civilian worker furloughs and a continued hiring freeze at Wright-Patterson, but layoffs in the next fiscal year aren’t likely, a defense analyst said Thursday.
Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C., said military personnel are exempt from sequestration cuts under the federal budget, but the civilian workforce isn’t.
“For civilian personnel, there would likely be furloughs again and they would probably continue the hiring freeze that’s already been in effect,” he said. “But at this point in the fiscal year it would be difficult for them to do layoffs of civilians because there are actually costs involved with letting people go so they might not even end up saving money. …
“If you’re going to do layoffs of civilians, they should have started that process already for it to make sense financially,” Harrison said.
If sequestration continues, Wright-Patterson could see deep “draconian” cuts, said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs.
The White House has requested a $114.1 billion Air Force budget this fiscal year. Sequestration cuts have targeted roughly 10 percent across the board reductions. Another round could happen in mid-January, when a continuing budget resolution expires.
Long-term research and development and education represent two vulnerable areas, Gessel said. “I don’t know the specifics, but when we’re facing budget cuts of this magnitude, our greatest concern starts with those programs that do not provide an immediate payoff for the Air Force or do not directly involve the immediate support of warfighting efforts,” he said.
Further cuts, Harrison said, would strain the Air Force’s three top acquisition priorities: the KC-46 aerial tanker, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and a new long-range strike bomber.
“They could slow down procurement of the bomber,” he said.
The Department of Defense research budget, a major priority at the Air Force Research Lab at Wright-Patterson, which employs thousands, has dropped 25 percent in the past three years, a historical trend following post-wartime draw downs since World War II, he said. But he speculated cuts to research have reached the bottom. Beyond that, he said, “I think we’re treading on precarious ground.”
The Air Force has not projected what another sequestration cut would mean, said Capt. Erika Yepsen, an Air Force spokeswoman. “Everything at this point hinges on what Congress decides to do and when they give us a budget,” she said.