As military officials plan for how they will continue to run their operations if federal defense funding is slashed next month, they are issuing stern warnings that sequestration (legal action triggering automatic budget spending cuts) would have serious and detrimental effects on national security.
In a message to Department of Defense (DoD) employees on Feb. 20, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the administration is working with Congress to strike a deal on a deficit reduction plan, but as the deadline rapidly approached, plans were being made to implement the looming cuts, which Panetta said, “will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force.”
DoD, Air Force plan for spending cuts
Although President Barack Obama has taken action to exempt military personnel from furloughs and other cost-cutting measures, Panetta said if sequestration goes into effect, the DoD’s civilian employees will be subject to the budgetary axe.
“We are doing everything possible to limit the worst effects on DoD personnel — but I regret that our flexibility is extremely limited… we have no legal authority to exempt civilian personnel funding from reductions. As a result, 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.”
In the event that furloughs of civilian DoD employees become necessary, Panetta said all affected personnel will be notified at least 30 days in advance, “and your benefits will be protected to the maximum extent possible.”
Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) — which oversees AEDC and other Air Force test centers — issued a release this week listing the ramifications the sequester would have on its mission.
Included on that list are reduced weapon system sustainment; unpaid furloughs for civilian employees of up to 22 days between the months of April and September; reduced testing of weapons systems; and deferment of investment into long-term research and development.
According to the AFMC release, “these reductions, along with other Air Force-wide cuts will ultimately harm overall Air Force operations and readiness, Air Force officials have said. All aspects of the command’s mission of science and technology, life-cycle management, test and evaluation and the sustainment of the Air Force’s fleet of aircraft will be degraded if budget sequestration measures occur… The impacts would not only be felt at AFMC locations, but would ripple throughout the entire Air Force since AFMC is the executive agent for many programs and systems.”
Preparations under way at AEDC
Officials at AEDC are also planning for the worst-case scenario. Last month AEDC complied with the civil service hiring freeze instituted across the Air Force as a whole, and at the order of AEDC Commander Col. Raymond Toth, all non-mission-essential travel and equipment and supply purchases were halted.
In the weeks since, additional preparations have been undertaken at Arnold. Jason Austin, director of public affairs at AEDC, said if March 1 arrives without Congress taking any action, “there will be immediate and negative impacts on AEDC’s mission, maintenance and manning.”
But the full extent of those impacts is still unclear, Austin said, because the amount AEDC’s funding would be cut is still uncertain. Essentially, officials are trying to prepare for the worst-case scenario without knowing just how bad it could get.
Austin said Toth will “determine the best way to mitigate the impacts at AEDC” as information becomes clearer.
“At this time there is still uncertainty on how the Air Force and Department of Defense will levy the potential reductions and therefore, no decision had been made on how to manage those funding reductions at AEDC,” he said.
What sequestration would mean for employees of ATA, the operating contractor for Arnold Complex, is murky as well. Austin said Toth will provide guidance to ATA general manager Steve Pearson, who will determine what changes need to be made to ATA’s workforce in response to the funding cuts.
However, Austin said, officials are anticipating that the sequester would reduce overall testing conducted at Arnold for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Once AEDC leadership has clearer details on where spending reductions would have to be made, and how deep those cuts would be, “we will work closely with our ATA partners to find the best solutions for the employees and mission at Arnold Air Force Base,” Austin added.
Kathy Gattis, public affairs director for ATA, said the company is planning for what changes it will need to make if its funding is cut; however, the process is complicated by the fact that the full extent of the potential impact remains unclear.
—By ANDREA AGARDY, Tullahoma News Staff Writer (Andrea Agardy can be reached by email at email@example.com.)