Wright-Patterson could impose unpaid furloughs on up to 13,000 civilian employees and a 15 percent cut in operations as part of spending reductions that could strike the Air Force, the military commander of the base said Thursday.
The 22-day furloughs would be “an absolutely worst-case scenario” as the base tries to minimize the impact where civilian employees are 60 percent of the workforce, said Col. Cassie B. Barlow, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing headquarters at Wright-Patterson.
“That 22 days could be a consecutive 22 days or it could be every Friday for the next 22 weeks,” Barlow said.
The unpaid time off the job, amounting to a 20 percent pay cut through September, and additional cuts could be triggered if Congress and President Barack Obama fail to reach a deal to avert sequestration, or automatic, across-the-board cuts to federal spending set to begin March 1.
Furloughs would begin in April once employees receive a 30-day notice.
“We have some very specifically trained civilians on this base for specific missions and we don’t have the military trained to do some of those same jobs,” Barlow said. “To the extent that we can use military, if we can, we will do it, but I fully expect if we get to the point where we’re furloughing civilian employees there will be some things at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base that we will not do during the furlough. We just will not be able to get across the finish line without all those employees.
Other potential cuts to base operations are in the planning stages, but no details were available Thursday, Barlow said.
“Everybody’s on edge, I would say,” Barlow said, describing the mood at the base as personnel knew cuts would come with spending already capped at last year’s levels. “It’s a tough environment for everybody” both on and off base.
Jamie Morin, acting undersecretary of the Air Force, called the potential of furloughs “unprecedented.”
“It’s a breach of faith with the civilian airmen who are critical to the success of the Air Force,” he said in a Pentagon conference call Thursday with reporters.
Many defense contractors providing services to bases across the country could “get squeezed first and tightest,” said Morin, who had concerns about how the cuts will hit the nation’s defense industrial base.
“Where we stand is that we don’t know where the cuts are going to be so until we know it’s really hard to prepare for,” said Deborah Gross, executive director of the Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association. Hundreds of defense-related job openings in the Dayton area remain unfilled because of the uncertainty, she said.
The Air Force has detailed where many of the $12.4 billion in sequestration spending reductions could hit between March and September beyond civilian employee furloughs.
Flying hours would be severely curtailed and military exercises canceled imperiling readiness, pilot training could be interrupted, maintenance postponed on nearly 150 aircraft, and the Air Force Thunderbirds could be grounded April 1, among other consequences, Air Force leaders said Thursday.
The Air Force has imposed other cost-cutting measures, such as a civilian hiring freeze and the layoff of temporary employees, as it deals with an additional $1.8 billion shortfall in wartime funding. Wright-Patterson continues to review the job status of 344 temporary and term employees who face possible termination, base spokesman Daryl Mayer said.
Phillip L. Parker, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said he was troubled furloughs might become reality, but relieved they were not job losses for most government workers.
“We’re a military town and take this very seriously and we’ve got to (determine) how to convince the federal government and the leaders in the federal government how to resolve this with as little pain as possible,” he said Thursday.
Joseph Zeis, Dayton Development Coalition executive vice president and chief strategic officer, said the actions are “significant to people, it’s significant to the mission (of the base) and clearly deleterious to national security.” The coalition will aid furloughed employees with guides on where to find resources to help face financial hardship, said Maurice “Mo” MacDonald, the Coalition’s vice president for military affairs.
Brenda Kerfoot, Dayton Air Show general manager, said the Air Force hasn’t given any indication to her the Thunderbirds might not take flight at the air show in June.
“If the Thunderbirds are cut, it’s a drastic cut and I think that would be a shock not only to our community in Dayton but the entire country,” she said.
A no-show wouldn’t scrap the airshow, she said. “We still have a full line-up.”
A few days ago, we asked Facebook readers to send us their questions about defense cuts and the impact on the base. Congressman Mike Turner, R-Dayton, answered four of the questions:
Jackie Luster: When should employees expect to hear whether or not they will be required to take furlough days?
Turner: As you know, I voted against sequestration. This should not be happening. I have endorsed a plan which will avoid sequestration for a year. This would be paid for through attrition at the Department of Defense. Under current law, sequestration is set to go into effect on March 1st of this year. The Air Force’s draft plan for implementing sequestration states that it will cause up to 22 furlough days for the 13,000 Wright-Patt civilian employees. Those employees affected will be advised at least 30 days prior to imposing any unpaid furlough.
Kraig Kirves: Defense budget is dwarfed by social programs budget, yet where are the major cuts made?
Turner: The Department of Defense represents 18% of our government’s budget. But under sequestration, it would bare 50% of the cuts. The President had already cut Defense by $487 billion in his first term. Sequestration would be an additional $500 billion in cuts. Both former Defense Secretary Gates and Secretary Panetta have stated that these cuts would be devastating. These cuts would absolutely affect our ability to conduct operations and support our men and women deployed overseas. I believe that we need to find savings throughout our federal budget – but in a way that is targeted and appropriately evaluated. Sequestration cuts indiscriminately and without concern for what real capabilities would be lost.
Jermaine Tims: If the military clearly says they don't need something, why continue spending money? We spend $345 million a year doing maintenance on tanks out in Arizona that have and never will be used.
Turner: In Congress, our role is to evaluate what our military and civilian leaders request and make decisions based on the needs of our national security and realities of our budget. Currently we service and produce our tanks in Lima, OH – just up the road from Dayton. The Abrams Main Battle Tank is in service and used by our Soldiers and Marines in places like Afghanistan. It is also used by many of our allies. The Lima facilities are one of a kind and cannot be shut off and turned back on without significant cost and risk. The government has invested heavily in these facilities and in the highly skilled workers that make our tanks lethal to the enemy and safe for our servicemembers. The Army was unable to propose a plan in which these facilities could be shut down with an acceptable level of risk. Had we accepted the Army’s proposal without review, we would have lost the expertise of plant workers who operate the only facility in the world to maintain our tanks. We are now working to ensure that the Lima Tank Plant retains its capabilities and it is currently operating at a lower capacity.
Alliea Phipps: At what point can Wright State's aerospace and internal med departments clinical trials be better utilized in partnership with Wright Patt AFB especially since 100's of 1000's of troops are returning with serious issues?
Turner: Caring for our wounded warriors is a top priority of mine. We should be using the advanced knowledge of medical research at Wright State and other facilities across our community and nation to benefit our servicemembers who have sacrificed so much. Currently, the military has a number of collaborations with medical research facilities around the country. I am working to ensure those same opportunities for collaboration to take place in our community.