F.E. Warren Air Force Base officials say more than 700 civilian base workers will each lose about $8,000 in pay every year if across-the-board federal budget cuts trigger March 1.
The Department of Defense announced 800,000 in total potential furloughs Wednesday if Congress and President Barack Obama are unable to avert the $1.2 trillion in cuts, known as the "sequester."
The 700 military technicians in the Wyoming National Guard would also be subject to the furloughs, but officials are still unsure how many will have their hours cut, said Deidre Forster, public affairs officer for the Wyoming Military Department.
Defense officials said they would continue the furloughs for a decade to help cover $500 billion in defense budget reductions outlined in the plan. Officials at Cheyenne-based F.E. Warren said its civilian employees would lose more than $58 million in salaries over the decade.
F.E. Warren employs more than 800 civilian workers at any given time. Many would be subject to a one- or two-day furlough for each monthly pay period, under the Defense Department's plans. The furloughs would have a $5.4 million fiscal impact on Wyoming in fiscal year 2013, said Elizabeth Robbins, press officer for the Department of Defense.
“That’s money that won’t be spent in Wyoming,” said Cody Hawkins, 90th Missile Wing public affairs officer at the base.
If the cuts go into effect, the furloughs would begin as early as April 25, Robbins said. No combat troops or foreign nationals will be affected by the furloughs.
The furloughs will leave the base without key personnel at all times, Hawkins said. Those who maintain tanks, aircrafts and ships will be affected along with medical personnel and other positions.
“In some positions we’re only one person deep,” Hawkins said. “So jobs will have to wait.”
The furloughs will also affect employees of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration, said Dan Stohr, spokesman for the Aerospace Industries Association, a defense industry lobbying group.
There will be less air traffic controllers and security officials working at any given time, causing longer waits at tarmacs and longer security lines, Stohr said.
“You’ll see the impacts really ramping up during summer travel season,” he said.
The sequester is not the only weight hanging on the shoulders of the Pentagon. An additional $487 billion in 10-year budget cuts began in 2011, which led to a hiring freeze and layoffs among other reductions.
On top of that is the continuing resolution, an informal budget that is set to expire March 27. The resolution forbids the military from renewing or procuring maintenance and equipment contracts. If a ship, aircraft or tank becomes disabled, the military would not be able to hire a contractor to fix or replace the machines. If Congress fails to pass a budget and renews the resolution, spending will remain at 2012 levels for all non-combat operations. No new contracts would be awarded.
Meanwhile, the sequester would save the Department of Defense $5 billion in fiscal year 2013. Opponents say the cuts will cost the nation $2 million jobs and new revenue, Stohr said.
The draconian cuts outlined in the sequester were intended to encourage Congress to work out a better deal to reduce the nation’s debt and deficit. Lawmakers in Washington have had more than two years to develop a solution.
“Everybody on Capitol Hill knows it is bad policy,” Stohr said. “But they just can’t come to a consensus.”
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., wants to see the cuts done differently, but doubts it will happen. He and the rest of the Wyoming congressional delegation believe the sequester will occur.
“Washington’s inaction on the sequester is creating uncertainty for many military families in Wyoming and across the country,” Barrasso said in a statement to the Star-Tribune. “Instead of gutting our defense and proposing another round of tax increases on hardworking Americans, President Obama must work with Republicans to replace the sequester with responsible budget cuts.”
The president met with Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday, but little was said to the media about the closed-door meeting.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., has little hope Congress will find a solution with seven days remaining.
“If sequestration goes into effect, then I will evaluate the competing demands of the military, federal funding for parks and otherwise vs. the fiscal and moral crisis that is our $16 trillion dollar debt,” she said in a statement to the Star-Tribune.
In the short term, the sequester won't do anything to ease the burden on the nation’s debt and deficit, Stohr said.
“It puts people out of work,” he said. “That doesn’t cut the deficit.”
The cuts, along with the furloughs, could put more people in need of government assistance and could take a bite out of the nation’s tax revenues, Stohr said.
“The impact of this is going to be amazing,” he said.