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Companies must decide how to execute schedule changes

By NICOLE CLARK

Staff writer

Defense contractors who work on site at Patuxent River Naval Air Station just got notice that their work weeks could be cut a day short during the same time federal employees will be furloughed.

“Furloughs have driven us to shut down, to a large extent, our command operations on Fridays,” Garry Newton, the Naval Air System Command’s most senior federal worker, said in an interview Thursday. NAVAIR held a closed meeting Wednesday to discuss the issue with the business community.

The government “will not require” contractors on site at NAVAIR to do work on those days, Newton said. Unpaid furloughs of federal workers are expected to last up to 11 days, from July 12 to Sept. 30, equaling a 20 percent reduction in pay during that time.

Since, in many cases, the government has already paid defense contracting companies for the work their employees are expected to complete this fiscal year, it will be up to each company to decide how to handle its own employees, scheduling and pay for those Fridays, Newton said.

NAVAIR has about 9,300 contractors worldwide, and about 6,000 of them are at Pax River. NAVAIR has 24,260 federal employees, with about 8,000 of them at Pax, according to data from the command.

Most federal workers will be furloughed. Most contractors on site at NAVAIR will not be allowed to work in government spaces during those furloughs.

Military personnel are exempt from the furloughs. Only about 2 percent of NAVAIR’s federal workforce would be exempt from furloughs. Contractors and civilians in foreign military sales are exempt, largely because countries have already paid for services. Contractors and civilians deployed to war zones also will not be required to miss work days.

“This is not too much of a surprise for us,” said Glen Ives, president of the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance and a defense industry executive. Ives wrote in an email Thursday that the problem stems from “a very consistent inability to work through critical issues at the national level in Washington.” Congress allowed sequestration, with deep cuts to the nation’s military budget, to go into effect this March.

“I think the specific impacts to industry will vary,” said Ives, a former Pax River commanding officer. But, he added, “it looks like NAVAIR has worked hard” to communicate with companies about the changes.

Newton said a team of leaders decided the best approach to executing furloughs would be to create a standard schedule. “It gives us a better opportunity to plan for highly productive time on Mondays through Thursdays,” he said.

Historically, many workers on site at NAVAIR — contractor and civilian — would “stay until the work is done,” Newton said. When the Navy needs a test complete, aircraft parts delivered, contracts signed, or troubleshooting for crew members who might be deployed, employees often work 12 hour days.

During the furlough, Newton said, “we will have four, eight-hour days” each week. “We have to comply.” NAVAIR is working with managers to help employees determine which tasks are top priority and which will have to be deferred.

NAVAIR, essentially, will shut down key functions on Fridays, including aircraft flight and testing. If a crew has to come in to complete a Friday test, their furlough day will have to be taken at a later time. Major programs at Pax River will have to defer about 20 percent of their work and play catch-up later, which Newton said over the long term would likely cost more than originally budgeted. Overtime pay will be permitted only if it already had been budgeted for, Newton said, and cannot be used to compensate for the furlough.

“I think many of us, both in government and industry, have been hoping that somehow our national leaders in Washington would find a way to deter a very sad but avoidable scenario of diminished national security,” Ives said. Meanwhile, he said, defense contracting companies have been working to reduce overhead expenses. But other financial issues, such as low-price solicitations to complete government work and delays in many contract awards “are very tough to mitigate.”

Whatever happens, Ives said, “I think this is a scenario that most companies would agree would be extremely difficult to fully prepare for, even if we had all the time in the world.”

nclark@somdnews.com