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For weeks, people have stood around water coolers and walked through far-off legislative halls, pontificating about whether the negative impact of steep federal budget cuts, called sequestration, have been exaggerated. But the fiscal crisis couldn’t be more real for a team of transportation workers at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

Four shuttle bus drivers are scheduled to be laid off today, March 15, and others who work for the company that holds the transportation contract, IAP World Services, face potential pay reductions as Pax River tries to drastically reduce spending this fiscal year.

Pax River spans more than 14,500 acres, has about 850 buildings, and often has limited parking at major buildings. The base is notifying more than 22,400 workers that shuttle service will end after Friday.

Several IAP workers and representatives declined to comment for the record.

IAP has been awarded several government contracts, each totaling anywhere from $9 million to $17.4 million, over the years to support Navy operations for facilities at Pax River, Webster Field, Solomons and Point Lookout, according to a listing of Defense Department contracts. Services provided have included waste collection, as well as facility, water and environmental maintenance.

The Navy has been telling commands across the region to look at cost-cutting measures, “and the base taxi is one of those,” said County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R), who also works as a defense contractor. The budget cutting is not “Pax-specific,” he said.

When Congress allowed sequestration to go into effect March 1, the government began making spending adjustments. Many of those adjustments include changes in staffing. Some defense contracting company workers in St. Mary’s have been notified that their salaries will be, or could be, reduced. Some are also wondering whether they’ll have jobs by the time the fiscal year ends this September as the Department of Defense tries to cut about $47 billion from its budget during the next six months. If Congress allows sequestration to stay intact, the federal government will trim more than $1 trillion from its budget during the next decade.

In addition to the sequester budget cuts now taking effect, the federal government is operating under a resolution that helped avoid a government shutdown while Congress delayed developing a current budget. That agreement keeps the government operating at 2012 funding levels, and restricts agencies’ ability to transfer money across accounts, even to areas where cash is needed. The resolution expires March 27 and Congress is working to extend it.

One person interviewed, who didn’t want to be named, suggested Congress lay off four of their own members, rather than the four transportation contract employees at Pax River.

Federal civilian workers aren’t shielded from the financial cutbacks, either. They face a 20 percent salary reduction this year, with furloughs reducing their work week to 32 hours, expected go into effect next month. And small companies, dependent on defense contracts, are wondering if they’ll be able to stay in business over the long term, as the government alters contracts.

People at Pax River are also standing by to see how other services, such as security personnel to man base gates, and hours at facilities like the commissary or recreation center, might be affected.

Capt. Ted Mills, commanding officer at Pax River, said in a statement that “reduction decisions, though difficult, have been prudent and in most cases reversible.” As the year goes on, Mills said, “we will prioritize continued funding towards those activities that support life, safety and critical security, as well as those programs that support Wounded Warriors. Although sequestration has been triggered,” Mills said, “we are still hopeful that Congress will pass a balanced deficit reduction plan that the president can sign, and sequestration is ultimately reversed.”

nclark@somdnews.com