Massive defense budget cuts could lead to the furlough of 180,000 Air Force civilian employees around the world, reduce military readiness and mean fewer aircraft in the fleet, according to an Air Force document outlining what cuts will have to be made if the scheduled sequestration isn’t stopped before March 1.
The document, obtained by the Dayton Daily News, said flying hours would be slashed, maintenance on certain aircraft and weapons systems postponed and some aircraft purchases delayed and even curtailed as part of the massive budget rollback.
The changes could have a dramatic impact on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, particularly if furloughs happen. The base is the largest single site employer in Ohio with more than 29,700 military and civilian workers.
The mandatory cuts, known as sequestration, would slice $12.4 billion from the Air Force budget by Sept. 30, the document prepared for Congress showed. This comes on top of the Air Force’s $1.8 billion shortfall in wartime spending.
Congress and President Barack Obama do not appear close to reaching agreement on stopping the cuts.
Furloughs would have a big impact on Wright-Patterson because of its more than 16,500 civilian workers. In January, the base imposed a hiring freeze and expected to terminate the employment of many 344 temporary or term employees, among other cost-cutting measures.
“There will be sizable cuts to the civilian workforce, there will be major delays in construction projects and in general money will become scarce for anything that’s not essential,” said Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. “What these cuts mean is that the Air Force will be less ready to go to war on short notice.
“Cuts in maintenance and training will not hurt Wright-Patterson very much, but if we get into a conflict it could hurt the military a great deal,” Thompson said. “The bottom line for Wright-Patterson is that everybody is going to have to tighten their belts and some civilians may lose their jobs or get furloughed unless Congress comes to an agreement on adding money.”
The Air Force Material Command, headquartered at Wright-Patt, has 14,000 military and civilian workers at the base and more than 80,000 across the nation.
Ron Fry, an AFMC spokesman, warned the command faces “serious spending reductions that will have a significant impact” on every mission responsibility.
AFMC oversees the Air Force Research Laboratory, depot maintenance, and test and evaluation of weapon systems, among other roles.
“These reductions would ultimately harm overall Air Force readiness,” he said in an email.
The March 1 sequestration deadline is followed by the expiration of a continuing budget resolution on March 27. The resolution capped spending at last year’s levels.
“The hope is that the Air Force is actively seeking to engage Congress in finding solutions and that’s hopeful,” said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal government programs in Washington, D.C.
But, he added, “We are seeing more concern about the potential for furloughs. The good news is the Air Force is still struggling to avoid furloughs and the Air Force understands the need to avoid furloughs if at all possible.”
Troy Tingey, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 214, which represents thousands of AFMC employees at Wright-Patt and throughout the nation, said 22 furlough days without pay would hurt employees’ pay and military readiness.
“That’s even more time off that we’re not supporting the warfighter,” he said in a telephone interview from Hill Air Force Base in Utah. “…It’s going to be tough. Having the right amount of people performing the right duties without stressing people out is one of our major concerns.”
Deadlines for Congress
Upcoming deadlines on important spending issues that Congress has postponed or delayed:
March 1: Spending cuts
Automatic government spending cuts for defense (7 percent) and domestic programs (5 percent); these cuts, also called “sequester,” were put off until now with the December “fiscal cliff” deal
March 27: Government funding runs out
A quick-fix, called a continuing resolution, that okays government spending expires on this date; if CR is not renewed, government agencies shut down
April 15: Budget deadline
Both House and Senate must pass budget plans with tax and spending priorities or paychecks for Congress members will be withheld; Senate has not passed a budget resolution in four years
May 19: Debt ceiling deadline
Debt ceiling was suspended by Congress Jan. 31 until this date; government can continue to borrow money to its pay bills
ACROSS THE BOARD CUTS
The sequestration would slash spending by nearly 10 percent across the board. If no agreement is reached on stopping or delaying the mandatory cuts, the Air Force has asked Congress to lift the mandate and allow the service to choose where reductions would occur, said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman.
The proposed cuts would target procurement, maintenance and training, including ending combat training for some home-based units, the Air Force document says. Flying hours would be cut 18 percent and the purchase of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, considered by the Air Force to be its next-generation stealth fighter jet, could be delayed and scaled back.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called the Air Force proposal “highly troubling news.”
“Sequestration will affect mission readiness and our deployed personnel around the globe,” Turner said in a statement. “Civilian furloughs will delay systems testing — ultimately increasing end costs to the taxpayer and the amount of time it takes to deliver equipment to our warfighters. The president’s plan to gamble with our national security has turned out to a losing bet — one I predicted when voting against sequestration in August of last year. The deficit of leadership from the president and the Senate will ultimately be paid back by those who have already sacrificed so much: our men and women in uniform.”
In remarks Tuesday, Obama called for “a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms” to delay sequestration “for a few more months until Congress finds a way to replace these cuts with a smarter solution.”
Obama pointed the finger at Congress for failing to reach an accord that would stop the sequestration cuts.
“There is no reason that the jobs of thousands of Americans who work in national security or education or clean energy, not to mention the growth of the entire economy, should be put in jeopardy just because folks in Washington couldn’t come together to eliminate a few special interest tax loop holes or government programs that we agree need some reform,” the president said.