Friday, November 04, 2011

TOP STORY > > Griffin: Don’t jeopardize defense

Leader editor-in-chief

Following this week’s announcement of big layoffs of civilian workers in the military—including 41 positions at Little Rock Air Force Base—Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) is warning against cutting too many civilian jobs.

“The civilian jobs being eliminated at the LRAFB are a result of the restructuring of the civilian workforce nationwide due to anticipated budget cuts and the need to increase efficiencies at the U.S. Department of Defense,” Griffin told The Leader on Friday.

“I am very concerned with the loss of these jobs and have expressed my concerns regarding the size and scope of proposed cuts to our nation’s defense,” said Griffin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

About half of the civilian jobs that will be cut on base have not been filled for some time because of a hiring freeze. Eleven employees have been offered other positions, while the search is on to find jobs for nine others, according to Bob Oldham, a base spokesman.

In addition, about a dozen officers on base have been told to leave the Air Force. Nationwide, some 400 officers are squeezed out.

The Air Force, like other services, would see its budget shrink and benefits for service members squeezed if Congress goes through with plans to cut spending across the board.

The Air Force budget of $119.6 billion is down $4.5 billion and more cuts are likely.

The spending cuts are required under a debt agreement that calls for $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade.

Items on the chopping block are weapons procurement, health-insurance premiums and pension benefits. Those last two items cost the military about $100 billion a year.

But a bipartisan budget supercommittee assigned to making across-the-board-spending cuts has failed to reach an agreement. Many Republicans now favor abandoning military cuts and want reductions in other parts of the budget.

Griffin still hopes there will be an agreement to cut overall spending. But he wants to avoid automatic cuts, or sequestration, if there is no agreement.

According to a spokesman, Griffin “has always viewed sequestration as the least appealing aspect of the budget agreement from August. But he remains hopeful that the members of the supercommittee will be able to present a proposal for reducing our deficit by the Nov. 23 deadline, thereby avoiding sequestration.”

Griffin told The Leader, “I understand the need to find efficiencies at the Department of Defense during these difficult economic times. However, we must ensure that our military receives the necessary support to defend our country: That is our federal government’s constitutional duty.

“I will continue to fight for the men and women of the LRAFB community and the critical role they play in our nation’s defense,” the congressman said.

The Air Force has eliminated approximately 9,000 civilian positions, although approximately 5,900 jobs were added in top-priority areas.

The 19th Airlift Wing at LRAFB is part of Air Mobility Command, where 657 civilian positions are to be eliminated in 2012 and 935 more in 2013.

“For the majority of our civilians affected by this adjustment we are diligently working to reassign them into other available positions wherever possible,” said Col. Steven Beatty, director of manpower, personnel and services at Air Mobility Command.

The military is scrambling to make personnel cuts less painful.

“We clearly understand the turbulence these and future reductions will cause in the workforce,” Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said in an announcement Thursday after members of Congress criticized the cuts.

Schwartz said the Air Force would try to reduce jobs through attrition and moving some workers to other jobs to avoid forced layoffs.

Even as major military operations continue around the world, the nation’s armed forces are being asked to do more and could see higher health-insurance costs and lower pension benefits.

Schwartz said a belt tightening is inevitable.

He said the service can get the job done even if the cuts are continued.

The challenge facing the Air Force is how to do more with fewer resources, including fewer new planes already in the planning stages that may not get built.

The Air Force has 330,000 service members, down from 600,000 in 1996.