Wright-Patterson could take weeks to months to catch-up on a work backlog caused by the furloughs of thousands of civilian workers, and base leaders have started planning for the potential of a furlough again, the base commander said Wednesday.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen next year, that’s the concern,” said Col. Cassie B. Barlow, 88th Air Base Wing commander. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in general about sequestration and about the budget. … It would be absolutely devastating to go through another furlough.”
The Pentagon announced Tuesday 11-day furloughs for about 650,000 civil service workers, including 10,000 at Wright-Patterson, would be shortened to six days because the Pentagon found additional savings and Congress approved a request to reprogram where money is spent. The furloughs were ordered because of a mid-year cut to the Department of Defense budget of $37 billion, a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Putting the army of civilian workers back to work at the base was welcome news, Barlow said.
“We’re happy about getting them back and getting their time back,” she said. The after effects of the work backlog in offices throughout the sprawling base will linger, though. For example, Barlow said, a civil engineering work order that once took a week now could take as many as four weeks.
“Once you ramp down, it takes a little while to ramp up again,” she said. “We’ll be getting our noses back to the grindstone in terms of getting back to where we should be in terms of the amount of work we weren’t able to do.”
The base has put “heart and brain” priorities from flight line operations, force protection to firefighting and emergency response at the forefront, she said.
“We’re trying our best to keep up morale just by prioritizing what we do and trying not to overload people. And I would argue that’s what got us to the point where we are in the furlough. We spent a lot of time thinking about what work can we let pile up and what do we absolutely have to do right now.”
Taking lessons learned this time, Wright-Patterson has started contingency planning for no spending reductions, and cuts of 10, 20 or as much as 40 percent after Oct. 1, she said.
The Air Base Wing had a 40 percent budget cut this year. The automatic reductions have forced a postponement in most maintenance on the sprawling base to skipping purchases of new equipment.
“We did learn some lessons but none of them are ones that you would want to apply again,” she told reporters. ” … I guess there’s a little bit of comfort knowing that we can start planning early, but there is still a lot of uncertainty about the budget which is not comforting at all.”