Feedback: 'Vast Majority' Of Military Civilian Employees Could Be Furloughed
While enlisted military personnel are protected from the budget cuts that would result from sequestration, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says civilian employees won't be so lucky.
That includes the 5,000 civilian employees at Fort Drum.
"We have no legal authority to exempt civilian personnel funding from reductions," Panetta said in a message to Department of Defense (DoD) employees released Wednesday morning.
"As a result," he said, "should sequestration occur and continue for a substantial period, DoD will be forced to place the vast majority of its civilian workforce on administrative furlough."
If Congress and the president don't reach an agreement on how to balance the federal budget, across-the-board budget cuts -- called sequestration -- will go into effect March 1.
The DoD alone would be cut by $46 billion.
Panetta said civilian employees will receive 30-day notices if furloughs are necessary.
Pentagon officials have said the furloughs would be structured so that nearly all 800,000 civilian workers lose one day of work per week for 22 weeks, probably starting in late April.
That means they would lose 20 percent of their pay over that period.
Panetta said the defense department is already under orders to cut spending and the sequestration cuts will only make things worse.
The defense secretary vowed to continue to fight against personnel cuts.
"Our most important asset at the department is our world-class personnel," he said in the statement.
"You are fighting every day to keep our country strong and secure, and rest assured that the leaders of this department will continue to fight with you and for you."
For one of the unions on Fort Drum, the briefing didn't offer much in the way of new information.
But it did reinforce their feeling that they are pawns in a game of politics.
"It's just sad that it's getting to this point. It's like a big game of chicken," said Loren Zeilnhofer, representative for Local 4000 of the American Federation of Government Employees.
For workers now, the big question is which ones will be exempt from the furlough.
"The basic guidance is life, safety and health. But that hasn't been further defined so we really don't know," said Zeilnhofer.
During a briefing Wednesday afternoon, Pentagon officials said military personnel would have to cut back on training.
They said as a result, two-thirds of Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) would be left at lower levels of readiness.
"It could affect their ability to deploy to a new contingency if one occurred or if this goes on long enough, even to Afghanistan," said Robert Hale, Under Secretary of Defense.
That's because civilians support the soldiers.
"We have people that work on the ranges, that work in equipment, computers. It runs the gamut," said Zeilnhofer.
There's still time for a deal in Washington, but no sign of one in the works.
Statement From Owens
In a statement, north country Congressman Bill Owens said Congress has allowed politics hinder progress on the issue for far too long.
"To protect middle class jobs and important military assets like Fort Drum, we must get to work finding a responsible path to budget cuts," Owens said.
Owens says he supports what he calls "common sense solutions" to cut federal spending, like a proposal to eliminate duplication across government services or allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices like the VA does already.
"I call on both parties to work together to put these and other solutions on the table in search of common ground and a responsible fix to avoid sequestration."