By Debbie Stevenson
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – Civilian workers are to return to the post's visitor center today after money was found to put them back on the job until October, Fort Hood announced Monday.
The money to keep the 28-member work force from the San Antonio-based Training Rehabilitation and Development Institute was found Friday to keep them on the job through Oct. 1, but at reduced hours, said Bruce Zielsdorf, a Fort Hood spokesman.
October marks the start of the military's new fiscal year.
The Installation Management Agency director in Washington OK'd supplemental funds for the contract at the Marvin Leath Visitor Center, said Lt. Col. James Hutton in a III Corps news release Monday. However, the around-the-clock, seven-day operation will be reduced to 15 hours.
"In an effort to maximize the limited funds available, garrison officials plan to operate the center 15 hours daily rather than the previous 24-hour schedule," Hutton said. "The visitor center will still be open seven days a week."
The new hours are 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Drivers without a Defense Department registration who need access after that time will be required to obtain a temporary pass from the gate guards manning the post's gates, Hutton said.
The visitor control workers have been among the contract caught up in the Army's garrison budget woes that has left Fort Hood and other posts scrambling to maintain barracks, keep services going, and in some cases, keep the utilities running.
The center's staff began their tumultuous week July 21 when the company was told the contract would be allowed to expire at 11 p.m. and they would would be replaced by uniformed troops.
Later that day, Burton E. Oliver, acting division chief for Fort Hood's police services division, said money had been found to keep them on the job through the following week. Instead, uniformed troops were sent into the center after the contract was allowed to expire at its original deadline, a company spokesman confirmed last week.
Converting noncombat and support duties to civilian contractors and government workers was a centerpiece of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's initiative to maximize the military's shrinking uniformed ranks after recruiting difficulties added to a strained mission at the start of the war in 2003. But, funding remained some $530 million short for this year's budget. The Army still faced an equipment repair or replacement bill of $12 billion to $13 billion from the war fronts after contracts for those services were severely cut or axed this year.
The cuts, announced June 1 at Fort Hood, which was $12.9 million in the hole, included contracts for cleaning services, grounds maintenance, information services and government vehicles. Soldiers also have been tasked once again to mow lawns outside of their units.
The cuts were to have been lifted once President Bush's $92.2 billion supplemental request for the wars was passed in June; however, the Army said it has decided to extend most of those cutbacks until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
The Army's 2006 budget is $98.2 billion. The 2007 budget request, not yet approved by Congress, seeks $111 billion for the Army.
The visitor's center at Fort Hood is off U.S. Highway 190 at the post's Main Gate.
Visitors seeking temporary passes at either the center or after hours will be required to show either a military identification car or current driver's license and proof of insurance. For questions about the center's hours and requirements, call (254) 288-2865 or 287-9909.
Contact Debbie Stevenson at email@example.com