Wednesday, May 29, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Base workers hurt by cuts

The news this Memorial Day Weekend was grim for 650 civilian employees at Little Rock Air Force Base. There will be 11 days of unpaid leave—furloughs—between July 8 and Oct. 14 at the base and throughout the military affecting 800,000 civilian employees, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced recently.

That’s approximately a day off per week, or about a 20 percent reduction in the pay of nonessential civilian workers. That’s about 7,150 days of work not performed — and not paid for—at the base.

The news could have been worse. Originally, Defense Department civilian employees were to have been furloughed 22 days, beginning March 8, but Hagel asked for time to study the matter.

The furloughs were triggered by the inability of Congress to come to a budget agreement, which will cost the Defense Department an estimated $46 billion for the fiscal year. The Pentagon was $30 billion short for operations and maintenance, necessitating the furloughs and other cutbacks.

Since sequestration became law, Congress has allowed certain areas, such as the military, to shift funds around, and has restored funds for air-traffic controllers and food inspectors.
Sequestration cuts include reorganizing the four wings at the base to increase savings through efficiency in organizing, training and equipping airmen, according to Brig. Gen. (Select) Brian Robinson, 19th Airlift Wing commander.

The base has curtailed non-readiness or non-essential flying and travel, curtailed or stopped minor purchases such as furniture and information technology updates, implemented a civilian hiring freeze and decreased aircrew temporary duty travel. Even so, the base has gotten dozens of iPads to help guide pilots, eliminating tons of paper and saving thousands of gallons of fuel using the new tablets.

In addition, the 19th Airlift Wing is cutting flying hours by 35 percent. The Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard have collaborated to reduce active-duty C-130s by 28 and both of the 19th Airlift Wing’s C-130H squadrons were proposed for reduction in 2014.

The news is not all bad. Increases in the Air Guard and Reserve airframes at the base will add eight planes. The base will continue to receive new C-130Js as originally scheduled to beef up its aging fleet of cargo planes. But in the meantime, civilians on base are paying a heavy price for the gridlock in Washington.