Thousands of Wright-Patterson civilian employees won’t spend as much time off the job without pay after the Pentagon dropped the number of furlough days to 11 from 14 on Tuesday.
The reduction cut in half the 22 furlough days that 13,000 local civil service workers originally faced earlier this year, but amounts to a $55 million loss in wages for Wright-Patterson employees, said Col. Cassie B. Barlow, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson.
That’s “still a big impact on the Miami Valley which is the reason we’re still hopeful this will continue to reduce or go away,” she said Tuesday, while calling the reduction in days “very encouraging.”
Pushed back for months, furlough notices are expected to be sent around June 5. One-day-a-week furloughs would begin July 8. Fewer than 100 Wright-Patterson civil service workers will be exempt, the base commander said. They will include medics and firefighters, although how many firefighters will be kept on the job is not yet settled, she said.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told an audience of civilian Defense Department employees in Alexandria, Va., he had thoroughly looked at every option and additional cuts to military readiness and training would have jeopardized national security. Automatic budget cuts, known as the sequester, have forced the Defense Department to cut $37 billion between March and the end of September, according to the most recent figures provided by the Pentagon.
“Finally, we got to a point where I could not responsibly go any deeper,” he told employees Tuesday in an address streamed online.
Hagel didn’t rule out reducing the number of days further, however. The Pentagon has asked Congress to give the Defense Department more authority to “reprogram” where to spend money.
Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs in Washington, D.C., said civilian workers serving the military “deserve better than this.”
“In general, this is a step in the right direction but it is still an unacceptable way to run the Defense Department or the government,” he said. “These are random cuts instead of making responsible decisions.”
Fewer furlough days are possible if Congress gives the Pentagon more flexibility to move money between accounts, according to Todd Harrison, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C.,
Unless Congress and the White House change course, the failure to reach a budget deficit reduction agreement kicked in the start of nearly half a trillion dollars in cuts to the Pentagon budget during the next decade.
This year, the Air Force has cut nearly a third of the flying hours for combat squadrons and anticipated a growing maintenance backlog. At Wright-Patterson, the 88th Air Base Wing has aimed to trim $30 million, or 40 percent of its budget.
The Air Force Materiel Command was in negotiations to reach a memorandum of understanding with employee unions on how the furloughs will be handled, AFMC spokeswoman Sue Murphy said in an email Tuesday.
The Dayton Daily News could not contact the American Federation of Government Employees Council 214 for comment on Tuesday.
The trickle-down impact of fewer dollars flowing into the economy has already been felt locally, some businesses said Tuesday.
Not far from the gates of Wright-Patterson, Angie Stringer, manager of Cadillac Jacks Sports Bar & Grill in Fairborn, said fewer civilian base workers have stopped in. “We used to be packed for lunch with civilians from over there,” she said.
Michael Gharst, owner of Roush’s Restaurant in downtown Fairborn, said the concern about furloughs has had an impact at his eatery. “It’s going to affect me one way or the other, there’s no way around it, whether it’s one or 25” days, he said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the 11 days would “severely impact” base employees.
“I have heard from business owners, restaurant employees, local leaders and everyone in between who has told me how sequestration has impacted their lives,” Turner said in a statement.
Turner said President Barack Obama and the Senate had “failed to meet the House on a solution to this mess.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the cuts could have been avoided by closing tax loopholes. He said he wanted the House and Senate to agree on a budget so they could cancel future furloughs. “There’s no reason the sequester needed to happen,” he said.
The cuts will continue to thwart the economic recovery, he said.
“We can’t continue to do these kind of austerity politics that clearly are a drain to our economic growth,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement he was “pleased the Pentagon was able to avert the more significant furlough levels, but sequester and even 11 days of furloughs is not the right way to find savings in the Defense Department.”
For months, our reporters in Dayton and Washington have been covering sequestration and especially the possible impact to thousands of workers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Reporter Barrie Barber is dedicated full-time to covering news from the base. Contact him at (937)225-2363 or email Barrie.Barber@coxinc.com.