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Defense Department plans for reductions in civilian workforce

By NICOLE CLARK

Staff writer

Federal employees at Patuxent River Naval Air Station are facing possible furloughs throughout the year, resulting from sequestration and other budget reduction measures being deliberated by Congress and the White House.

The unpaid furloughs could cost workers as much as one month’s pay, according to one scenario. “Imagine losing that kind of money,” said Raul Hernandez, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1603 at Pax River. “It makes you angry.”

Federal employees are already bracing for the financial impact and have stopped spending as much, he said. They’re not going to local stores, or buying as much gas. Some aren’t getting what they’d like for their children. Others are worried about medical bills. “It affects the community as a whole,” Hernandez said.

The Department of Defense is facing hundreds of billions in cuts if the massive federal spending cuts called sequestration now due to go into effect in March are not replaced by another congressional action.

Leaders across the Department of Defense were told in a Jan. 10 memo to consider reducing the civilian workforce in several ways to mitigate the effects of sequestration and other financial pressures that come from operating at 2012 budget levels with no clear path for spending throughout 2013.

One workforce reduction possibility raised includes furloughs of up to 30 calendar days or 22 discontinuous work days; other suggestions to deal with budget cuts include releasing temporary employees, not renewing term hires, imposing hiring freezes, authorizing voluntary separation incentives and early retirement “to the extent feasible.”

The Navy issued its own memo Jan. 14 to help deliver its sequestration implementation plan due to the Office of the Secretary of Defense on Feb. 1. It requests that commands work with budget officials to review potential impacts in operation and maintenance, investment, construction and family housing, military personnel, travel and training.

In addition to losing employees, the changes could mean reductions in flying hours and pilot training, returning ships to port, and disrupting “almost every” weapons modernization and research program, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a news conference earlier this month.

“The purpose of this intensive planning effort will be to ensure that our military is prepared to accomplish its core missions, including the ability to successfully deter aggression, if necessary. I want to emphasize, however, that no amount of planning, no amount of planning that we do can fully offset the harm that would result from sequestration, if that happens,” Panetta said.

“I just don’t see how they will achieve those dramatic cuts without significant reductions in personnel,” Glen Ives, president of the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance and a defense industry executive, said. “What that means for our local community, I’m not exactly sure.”

It is a “very cloudy, confusing, threatening and uncertain business environment for the Defense Department and the defense industry,” he said.

Todd Morgan (R), a St. Mary’s County commissioner and executive with a defense contracting firm, said he’s still hopeful that Congress will work together to find a viable solution. The problem is, he said, “You have a bunch of adults who can’t play in the same sandbox and get along.”

Meanwhile, Morgan said, federal workers aren’t the only ones feeling threatened. “There’s tremendous pressure being put on the contractor workforce.” Everyone outside of Pax River’s gates is being affected, he said. “I know some of the smaller businesses are having a much more difficult time because they don’t have the cash flow to keep up with the constantly changing rules.”

Hernandez, of the government employees union, said politicians are playing “Russian roulette with our economy, with our community and with our lives.”

He’s been working on a labor management team with other federal employees to try and space out potential furlough days so that the impact is felt in a relatively smaller way over a longer period of time. Instead of taking 10 furlough days straight, he said, workers could take off once every other week. And, for critical tasks, ensure that some team members are always there to support the fleet.

Even if budgets are reduced, Hernandez said, the work will still be there. Service members still need their aircraft and ships maintained. “Those are our sons and daughters out there,” said Hernandez, who service in the Marine Corps and federal government totals 50 years. “We’re trying to figure out how to take care of the needs of the employees and the needs of the fleet at the same time.”

nclark@somdnews.com