While the debates about sequestration, budget approval and fiscal responsibility are nearly 1,500 miles away in Washington, D.C., the results, or lack of, could have a significant impact on Fort Hood and Central Texas.
A civilian hiring freeze, temporary budget cuts and a halt to all nonessential training are today’s reality as the Army’s top leaders ask installations to prepare for the worst of sequestration. The possibility of thousands of civilian employee furloughs, the inability to pay for services and deeper cuts aren’t far behind if Congress doesn’t reach an agreement by March 1.
Sequestration is the term being used to describe the automatic reductions set to kick in March 1 that would force the Pentagon to cut $46 billion from its budget over the next seven months. Action from Congress is required to stop the cuts.
But sequestration isn’t the only problem for the Defense Department. Congress has failed to pass a formal budget, and since October, it has been operating in what’s known as continuing resolution. This grace period ends on March 27 unless Congress acts. Without action, many Fort Hood programs could be affected.
Last week, Fort Hood’s U.S. Army Garrison hosted four mandatory town hall meetings to educate employees on the impact of sequestration on Fort Hood, as well as what downsizing will occur regardless. Andy Bird, deputy garrison commander, encouraged questions and feedback from employees, and offered advice to those who may be losing their jobs by the end of September.
How civilian employees are affected
While military operations and all of Fort Hood’s about 6,000 civilian employees could be impacted, Bird spoke directly to the situation of those 3,276 people employed by garrison command and under direction of the Installation Management Command.
To prepare for the effects of sequestration, the Defense Department and the Army issued guidance to installations in January, including to slash budgets by 30 percent and implement a civilian hiring freeze.
“It’s better to be prepared and to have a plan,” Bird said, addressing attendees in an auditorium at the Mission Command Training Center on Feb. 13, to include the directors of Army Career Alumni Program, Directorate of Public Works and many Fort Hood police officers.
Within garrison, 2,230 employees are Department of Army civilians and could be affected by a 22-day discontinuous furlough to compensate for a $230 million shortfall in civilian pay at the command level.
The furlough days would be spread out, beginning June 16, and would save $76,600 per day.
Bird said furloughs are a last resort. It should be decided by top Army leadership within the next week or so if furloughs will happen.
“Be prepared. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” Bird said.
Cheryl Eliano, local chapter president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the more than 6,000 workers the union represents at Fort Hood can’t afford these furloughs.
“We have hard working Americans that need their full paycheck,” she said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C., where she spent five days meeting with members of Congress about this very issue. “We didn’t create this mess, so don’t put it on our backs.”
A hiring freeze has already been implemented, and is estimated to save Fort Hood $1.5 million. There are currently 238 open positions on post, but 154 are considered critical vacancies and can still be filled. Those “critical” jobs include firefighters, air traffic controllers, lifeguards, substance abuse program employees and child care workers.
Bird said this could change, because it is still under review what positions are deemed critical.
Eliano said the civilian workforce has already contributed $103 billion in reduced compensation over the many hiring freezes that have been implemented.
“Yet, when we look at our contractors, they haven’t contributed a dime,” she said. “They are larger and costlier than our workforce. We’ve done our share, now we feel others should do their share.”
If the government did enter the sequester, Eliano said the impacts would be devestating.
“How much more do we have to sacrifice?” she asked.
Impact on programs
Fort Hood’s programs and facilities could also be impacted by sequestration or other budget changes.
Garrison began fiscal year 2013 with $301.9 million, or enough to support 88 percent of its requirements. It ended January with $240.3 million, which covers 71 percent. The biggest hit will be to the Sustainment, Restoration and Modernization program, Bird said. It can only support 54 percent of its budget and will only work on life, health and safety contracts and high-priority services.
These include repairs in barracks and dining facilities, child development centers and fire protection.
All other service orders — Fort Hood sees about 700 a week — will be deferred and will decrease facility readiness over time, officials said. Unfunded areas include signs, landscaping, fencing, routine road work and ceiling and floor tile repairs.
In base operations support, if Congress fails to pass a budget by March 27 and the Defense Department can no longer operate on continuing resolution, public works programs such as refuse, recycle, custodial, latrines, pest and grounds maintenance will all lose funding.
For example, Bird said garrison might be able to afford to drive around post and collect garbage, but may not have the money to pay for dumping it at the landfill.
Programs that will not at all be affected include Army Community Service Programs, the Army Substance Abuse Program, sexual assault and suicide prevention and physical security.
“This will have an impact outside the gate,” Bird said.
Cuts already coming
On top of these looming deficits, Fort Hood is in the third year of a 10-year plan to reduce the Army civilian workforce by 30 percent. Garrison has 120 positions that must be terminated by the end of September, Bird said.
“These are excess employees whose mission has gone away,” he said.
In 2012, Fort Hood shed 9 percent of the civilian workforce and is aiming for 13 percent this year.
During the town hall, Bird encouraged these excess employees to consider looking at the 238 open positions and talking to their supervisor about applying and transitioning.
“What makes Fort Hood the Great Place is the people working here,” Bird said. “What we want to do is keep people to do the right mission at the right time at the right place.”
The Directorate of Emergency Services is looking at some of the biggest cuts, as soldiers deploy less and have the ability to fill these roles.
Of the directorate’s 332 civilian employees, 197 are in unauthorized, or excess, positions and there are only 40 authorized vacancies.
Eliano commended Bird for the town hall and for keeping employees informed.
“They are giving our employees what they know. It’s a heads up as to where things stand as of today,” she said. “Fort Hood is not trying to get rid of everybody. If they could keep everybody, they would. I do appreciate the partnership we have with the garrison command and what they are trying to do to keep us there.”
Contact Rose L. Thayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.