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Wright-Patt commander expects most civilian workers to lose pay

Fewer than 100 out of 13,000 civilian employees at Wright-Patterson will likely escape furloughs in late April because of anticipated massive defense spending cuts, a base military leader said Friday.

The fallout with fewer people on the job could mean operational hours for services and facilities could be shortened, waits in lines could be longer, and some patients seeking treatment at Wright-Patterson Medical Center might be sent elsewhere if the hospital is short staffed, said Col. Cassie B. Barlow, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing, which is responsible for base operations.

The Dayton Daily News and WHIO-TV Channel 7 sat down with Barlow for an interview on Friday to discuss the looming budget cuts and the impact on the base. She also answered questions you submitted via Facebook.

Spending cuts, known as sequestration, will automatically start March 1 if Congress and President Barack Obama fail to avert the self-imposed deadline to reach a deal. The cuts would reduce the Pentagon’s budget by $46 billion through the end of September, part of $1 trillion in spending reductions over a decade. The Department of Defense has notified Congress the Pentagon could force most of an 800,000-employee civilian workforce to take unpaid time off to save up to $5 billion.

The furloughs are expected to be one day a week for 22 weeks after employees receive a 30-day notice next month, Barlow said.

“Long term, the concerns are picking up the pieces,” she said. “If we go into a furlough and a sequestration, there will be I imagine a lot of work piling up over time.”

Employees with jobs involved in life safety, such as medical personnel and fire fighters, could avoid forced unpaid time off, she said. Departments are expected to have the flexibility for rolling furloughs so offices would not lose all personnel on a single day.

“We’ve tried very hard to think about this in terms of keeping the heart and brain going,” she said. “If we can keep the heart and brain going, we can resuscitate the rest of the body.”

Benefits, insurance for civilian workers won’t be impacted

Furloughed workers will keep fringe benefits, such as health care and life insurance, the base commander said.

“People have a lot of concerns,” Barlow said. “How am I going to pay my bills with a 20 percent cut? What’s going to happen with my life insurance, my health insurance, my retirement, all of those things. The good news is those programs are protected and they’re not going to be touched by sequestration and by a furlough. People will still have all of those benefits. The real issue is that they’ll have 20 percent less salary.”

The Pentagon has projected the loss in wages for Department of Defense workers furloughed in Ohio will add up to $167 million, with most of that at Wright-Patterson, she said.

“There’s an effect in every local business around Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and in the Miami Valley,” she said. “The real estate agent, the car salesman, the local bank, the local restaurant, the malls, all of those places will see an effect I believe of those lost wages.”

Barlow added she’s “very concerned” about how spending cuts will hit small business contractors to Wright-Patterson. “We don’t know what the exact effect is but we’ll probably see an effect of sequestration to their contracts for the future.”

Base to host town halls, set up hotline and website for employees

Wright-Patterson plans to stage employee “town halls” about what’s ahead, officials said. A telephone hotline to answer questions on potential furloughs has been set up at (937) 904-3472. Answers to questions are available at a base webpage accessible through a secure Air Force portal using a Common Access Card reader, according to base spokesman Daryl Mayer.

Budget cuts have had an impact already. In January, Wright-Patterson imposed a civilian hiring freeze, and announced it will terminate the jobs of up to 344 temporary and term workers, among other measures to curb expenses. Barlow has previously estimated a 15 percent reduction in operating funds. The base has about a $70 million operations budget.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, will visit Wright-Patterson on Monday within days of sequestration beginning, his office said late Friday.

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