February 22, 2013 11:34:43 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
Nearly 500 civilian employees at Columbus Air Force Base could lose up to 20 percent of their paychecks in the coming weeks if the White House and Congress fail to reach a deficit reduction deal by March 1.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Wednesday that nearly 800,000 civilian workers on military posts would begin working a four-day work week for as many as 22 weeks in the wake of a budget crisis commonly known as "sequestration."
CAFB Colonel Jim Sears held a press conference Thursday morning to address how the cuts would affect operations in Columbus.
"We are deeply, deeply, concerned about the negative effects of furloughs on the morale and effectiveness of our valued civilian work force," Sears said.
With more than 1,277 civilian employees, CAFB is the largest employer in Lowndes County. However, according to CAFB officials, only 472 employees are "appropriated civil service" and are currently the only ones that will be affected by the furlough.
"The Department of Defense expects to receive $46 billion less in non-exempt budget accounts through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013. An unfortunate part of reducing our rate of spending will be unpaid furloughs within our appropriated fund civilian workforce," Sears said. "Our civilian workforce at Columbus Air Force Base is critical to our mission of producing nearly one third of the pilots for the United States Air Force, advancing the personal and professional lives of our airmen and feeding the fight through deploying over 10 percent of our uniformed airmen and taking care of their families. They hold critical support positions throughout the wing and are integral to our pilot training mission as academic and simulator instructors and air traffic controllers," he said.
Should the March 1 deadline pass without a resolution, the affected civilian workers would receive 30 days notice, which would mean the reductions would not take place until mid-to-late April, Sears said. Sears was quick to point out that cuts should be temporary.
"None of the planning we're doing is irreversible," he said. "There are no permanent cuts expected."
Sears repeatedly expressed his concern on how the furlough would affect not only the mission of CAFB, but the livelihood of the civilian workers and their families.
"We are hopeful Congress will pass a balanced deficit reduction plan that President Obama can sign and sequestration is truly averted, not just delayed," he said.
In a letter to his staff obtained by the Associated Press, Secretary Panetta outlined his concerns over the effectiveness of a military with a reduced civilian workforce.
"In the event of sequestration we will do everything we can to be able to continue to perform our core mission of providing security of the United States, but there is no mistaking that the rigid nature of the cuts forced upon this department, and their scale, will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force," Panetta wrote.
In a separate letter, Panetta formally notified Congress that the Pentagon will have to consider furloughing a large portion of its civilian workforce if sequestration kicks in.
"The furloughs contemplated by this notice will do real harm to our national security," Panetta wrote in his congressional notification letter, adding that it would make troops less ready for combat and slow the acquisition of important weapons.
"Overall, sequestration will put us on a path toward a hollow force and inflict serious damage on our national security," Panetta wrote.
This article contains information from the Associated Press.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.