WASHINGTON — Furloughs of the U.S. military’s civilian workers that began Monday will start to show their effects as the week unfolds, from elimination of Saturday hours at a base pharmacy in Washington state to a possible slowdown in work on Patriot missile interceptors in Pennsylvania.
Months after the Pentagon began warning that the automatic cuts called sequestration would force unpaid leave, the rolling furloughs took effect for 85 percent of its civilian workforce.
“Our core mission is to defend the American people and U.S. national security interests,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters at the Pentagon Monday. “It’s not going to be easy” under the reductions, which will be staggered over each two-week pay period.
The move will cost as many as 651,542 employees 11 days’ pay through Sept. 30, according to Pentagon figures. The goal is to generate $1.8 billion of the $37 billion in reductions the Pentagon must come up with in the current fiscal year under the cuts.
The effects range from the 72,000 civilian defense workers facing furloughs in Virginia, the hardest-hit state, to one U.S. worker in Ghana, according to a Pentagon report released last week.
“Make no mistake about it: We’re in a rough period,” Little said. While he said the Pentagon won’t be able to provide day-by-day totals for furloughs, “my assumption is that the vast majority of that population will be on furlough at least one day this week.” Little said he is going on furlough on Fridays starting this week.
For investors and analysts of defense stocks, “a minor unknown” is how furloughs will affect the award and oversight of defense contracts for the remainder of the year, said industry analyst Byron Callan.
“It’s an issue that analysts will be drilling down on when defense companies report” earnings this month, Callan, director of Capital Alpha Partners in Washington, said in an email.
The forced leave also is hurting production at some government facilities, according to Bill Dougan, president of the Washington-based National Federation of Federal Employees.
At the Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pa., work on Patriot anti-missile interceptors is being slowed and “that could have a direct impact on military readiness,” he said.
Letterkenny is responsible for repairing and resetting Army equipment including the Patriots, route-clearance vehicles, and power-generation equipment, Lindsay Bryant, a spokeswoman for the depot, said.
Even with people taking one day a week off for furloughs, the “workload is there, so getting it done in the same time frame is a challenge,” she said.
At Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Seattle, the base posted a series of office and service closures on its website. The outpatient pharmacy at the Madigan Army Medical Center on the base will be closed on Saturdays and customers were warned that they may experience longer waits due to reduced staff.
In the base’s military personnel division, the pass and identification office, retirement services, and soldier readiness center will be closed on Fridays.
Altogether, about 16,000 Army, Air Force and Navy civilian employees face furloughs in Washington state, according to Pentagon figures.
At MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Col. Scott DeThomas, commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing, said furloughs will affect everything from family services to maintenance and flying operations, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
$237 million in wages
The 72,000 workers placed on furlough in Virginia will lose a combined $237 million in wages, according to Pentagon data. California will see about 57,000 civilian workers furloughed at a cost to them of about $189 million, followed by Texas with 45,000 workers idled with losses of $149 million, according to the data.
Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania fill out the ranks of the 10 states set to experience the biggest furlough impacts.
The National Federation of Federal Employees, one of the oldest unions representing U.S. workers, has started a Fight the Furloughs campaign. It’s intended to “gain Congress’s attention and action” to avoid further furloughs throughout government, Dougan said.
The average federal worker earns $25,000 to $75,000 a year, and a 20 percent cut in pay hurts the ability to pay routine bills and meet home mortgage payments, Dougan said.
“A lot of them are not higher-grade employees and a lot of folks are living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “Forcing them to sit at home is bad for the country and bad for the economy.”
For the Pentagon, the group is calling on lawmakers to “grant the Defense Department the flexibility they need to shift funds between accounts, to drastically reduce furloughs or potentially eliminate furloughs.”
Asked about the possibility that a continuation of sequestration next year will require eliminating jobs, Little said that “at this stage we are in the furlough period and no decisions have been reached about what may happen going forward.”
The Pentagon is planning to send Congress a letter by today outlining the impact of the additional $52 billion in sequestration cuts scheduled to take effect Oct. 1.
This report is “very important as ideally it will provide more granularity to what has so far been a vague discussion about the fiscal 2014 sequester cut,” Callan said. “At the least, it should show the hits to procurement and research and development and ideally will highlight specific program impacts.”