FORT HOOD — Budget shortfalls and sequestration could lead to thousands of civilian employee furloughs and impact services to soldiers and families at Fort Hood, officials said during a town hall meeting Wednesday.
Fort Hood’s U.S. Army Garrison planned four town hall meetings this week, with the final one Friday, to educate employees on what impact sequestration could have, as well as what downsizing will occur regardless.
Sequestration is the term used to describe automatic spending reductions starting March 1 that would force the Pentagon to cut $46 billion over the next seven months. Action from Congress is required to stop it.
While military operations and the nearly 6,000 civilian employees at Fort Hood could be impacted, the town halls were hosted by Andy Bird, deputy garrison commander, and he spoke directly to the situation faced by 3,276 people employed by garrison and under direction of the Installation Management Command.
To prepare for sequestration, the Defense Department advised the Army to slash budgets by 30 percent in January and implement a hiring freeze.
“It’s better to be prepared and to have a plan,” Bird said.
Within garrison, 2,230 employees are Department of Army civilians who 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.
“Be prepared. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” he 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 by phone from Washington, D.C., where she was meeting with members of Congress about sequestration. “We didn’t create this mess, so don’t put it on our backs.”
A hiring freeze has been implemented, and is estimated to save Fort Hood $1.5 million. There are 238 open positions on post, but 154 are considered critical vacancies and can be filled. Critical jobs include firefighters, air traffic controllers and lifeguards.
The garrison command 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 repairs. All other service orders — Fort Hood sees about 700 a week — will be deferred, which will decrease facility readiness with time.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said his main concern with sequestration is its impact on national security. “Our military mission should determine the budget and not the other way around.”
On top of these looming deficits, Fort Hood is in the third year of reducing its civilian workforce.
Garrison has 120 positions that must be terminated by the end of September, Bird said.
During the town hall, Bird encouraged these excess employees to consider looking at the open positions and reaching out to apply for them.
Read an in-depth report on Fort Hood’s budget shortfalls in Wednesday’s Fort Hood Herald.