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News > If sequestration happens, nearly all Westover civilians furloughed in late April
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 Mandatory unpaid time off
 The unpaid furloughs likely would be one day per week for the last 22 weeks of the fiscal year, from late April through September
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If sequestration happens, nearly all Westover civilians furloughed in late April

Posted 2/25/2013   Updated 2/25/2013 Email story   Print story


by Lt. Col. James Bishop
439th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

2/25/2013 - WESTOVER Air Reserve Base, Mass. -- If sequestration is triggered on March 1, furloughs - mandatory unpaid time off - for most civilian Defense Department employees will start in late April, Pentagon officials announced Feb. 20.

According to Air Force figures released Friday, most of the 759 civilians assigned to Westover are due to be furloughed if the massive cuts known as sequestration take effect. Only a few essential personnel will not be furloughed.

"Nearly all of our civilian workforce of 759 will be relegated to a four-day work week, which amounts to a 20 percent pay cut for the remainder of the fiscal year," said Col. Steven Vautrain, 439th Airlift Wing Commander. "The shortage of personnel will affect all of our mission areas, and the pay cut will affect the local economy."

Westover pumped $238 million into the local economy in 2012. With salary and other financial reductions, a 10 percent cut would remove nearly $24 million from the local economy, Col. Vautrain said.

The unpaid furloughs likely would be one day per week for the last 22 weeks of the fiscal year, from late April through September, and the cuts would amount to an expected $5 billion in spending reduction, according to the DOD website.

Sequestration is a provision in budget law that will trigger $470 billion in across-the-board spending cuts spread over the next 10 years unless Congress agrees on an alternative by March 1. These cuts would be in addition to the $487 billion in defense spending cuts DOD is already making over the next 10 years.

DOD Comptroller Robert F. Hale told reporters at a Pentagon news conference that if sequestration happens, the department will cut from virtually every program, and that almost all civilian employees will feel the pain.

Jessica L. Wright, the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said that sequestration and the expiration of the continuing resolution -- a temporary funding measure for the federal government that's due to end March 27 - will also have a devastating impact on military personnel.

"But on our civilians, it will be catastrophic," she added. "Everything is going to be affected, should sequestration go in effect," Wright said. "That's a guarantee. I think that everybody will be impacted by this action. And I think it's incumbent upon us to try to ease that where we can."

"Sequestration will affect all our mission areas: operations, maintenance, support and medical," Col. Vautrain said.

The department already has taken actions to alleviate some of the pressures. DOD has slowed spending, instituted a hiring freeze, ordered layoffs for temporary and term employees and cut back base operations and maintenance.

If sequestration hits, this pain will seem minor by comparison, according to DOD officials. Operations and maintenance funding is the only way to provide the $47 billion in required cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Within a year, two-thirds of the Army combat brigade teams will be at unacceptable levels of readiness, Hale said. Most Air Force units not deployed will be at an unsatisfactory readiness level by the end of the year. Navy and Marine Corps readiness will also suffer, Hale said.

The process of furloughing civilians began Feb. 20, when Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta sent notification to Congress.

"That starts a 45-day clock ticking, and until that clock has run out, we cannot proceed with furloughs," Hale explained.

If sequestration happens, each civilian employee will be notified. "That starts a 30-day clock -- waiting period -- before we can take any action," the comptroller said. "The bottom line is furloughs would not actually start for DOD employees until late April, and we certainly hope that ... in the interim, Congress will act to de-trigger sequestration."

The vast majority of DOD's almost 800,000 civilian employees will be furloughed, Wright said. DOD civilians in a war zone and political appointees who are confirmed by the Senate will not be furloughed. Non-appropriated fund employees will not be affected. Limited exceptions will be made for the purposes of safety of life and health, Wright said.

While military personnel are exempt from sequestration, there will be second- and third-order effects, Wright said. For example, hours at exchanges and commissaries could be affected, and family programs could be reduced or cut.

The spending cuts will affect military health care, as some 40 percent of the personnel working in the system are civilians. Elective surgeries could be delayed or eliminated, and costs cannot be shifted to the TRICARE military health plan, because that program also will be hit by cuts.

Fiscal 2013 is just the beginning of a decade of budgetary problems, Hale said.

"The Budget Control Act actually requires that the caps on discretionary funding beyond fiscal '13 be lowered for defense by $50 billion to $55 billion a year," he said. "If those come to pass, then we will have to look at a new defense strategy. That would be the first thing that we'd do."

The new strategy would accept more risk and also be based on having a smaller military.

For now, officials "devoutly would wish for some budget stability," Hale said. "And I think it would benefit the department and the nation."

Editor's note: Jim Garamone from Armed Forces Press Service contributed to this story.

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