Wednesday, February 27, 2013

TOP STORY >> LRAFB to be shorted by millions of dollars

Leader senior staff writer

If — as now widely assumed — Congress fails to cut the budget by $1 trillion before the Friday deadline, Little Rock Air Force Base will have to cut $2 million out of its base operations budget this year, according to base spokesman Arlo Taylor.

The widely discussed “sequestration” would trigger about $1.2 trillion worth of automatic, across the board cuts in the budget over the next decade, about half of that at the expense of the military. It appears that only a last-minute budget agreement in Congress can forestall these cuts.

“The cuts will be made by deferring repairs to two conversion hangars used for electron and mechanical work on C-130 cargo planes and a training facility,” Taylor said.

If sequestration is triggered, unpaid furloughs for civilian Defense Department employees will start in late April, according to Pentagon officials.

“The furlough policy also will affect the more than 600

Defense Department civilian employees at the base, but will not affect the contractor force, which makes up the bulk of the civilian work force here,” Taylor said.

Asked how sequestration would affect the mission of the wings on the base, Taylor said, “We cannot speculate on future mission or personnel actions.”

C-130 trainees could log fewer in-air training hours and spend more time in the base simulators.

Officials have said the base will probably have fewer old C-130s, but Sen. John Boozman said last week he hopes procurement of state-of-the-art C-130Js will continue as planned.

“In a difficult fiscal situation and economy, the Air Force along with (Department of Defense) and the nation have to make tough choices. Our approach has always been, and will continue to be, to act and operate in a fiscally responsible manner while maintaining a high level of readiness and excellence,” said Col. Brian Robinson, 19th Airlift Wing commander.

“Despite the challenges, our innovative airmen will continue to meet emerging challenges and ensure the security of the nation, but there may be significant limits to how much the wing can do within the bounds of acceptable risk and safety,” Robinson continued.

“Our foremost concern is the safety and welfare of our military and civilian airmen in getting our assigned missions done during this challenging time,” the colonel said.

The Air Force has “implemented prudent measures that will help mitigate budget risks, to ensure these measures are reversible and recoverable, and to the extent feasible, minimize any harmful effects on readiness,” according to a statement from Little Rock Air Force Base.

Throughout the Air Force, actions will include curtailing nonreadiness or mission essential flying and travel, curtailing or stopping minor purchases such as furniture and information technology refresh, deferring non-emergency facility maintenance, restoration and modernization, implementing civilian hiring freeze for all nonmission critical positions and releasing non-mission critical temporary and term employees at the end of their term, according to the statement.

These near term actions only achieve a small portion of the funding decrease required in the event of sequestration or a significant reduction, according to the statement.

Sequestration is expected to have immediate and negative impacts on Air Force readiness, specifically flying hours, maintenance, and manning, top brass said earlier this month in a media briefing.

Planning is under way for longer-term budgetary uncertainty.

In November, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told lawmakers that the sequestration would reduce Defense Department spending by nearly 20 percent during the next decade, leaving the nation with its smallest ground force since before World War II, the smallest Navy since before World War I, the smallest tactical fighter force in Air Force history and the smallest civilian workforce in the history of the Defense Department.

He warned it could result in canceling the Joint Strike Fighter and new bomber, delay the next generation of ballistic missile submarine and cuts to the submarine fleet, and eliminate modernization of helicopters and ground combat vehicles.