Sequester to sting fort employees

Civilian employees at Fort A.P. Hill will feel the sting of federal sequestration starting next month.

Workers will be furloughed one day per week without pay. The furloughs, slated to take effect April 25 through the end of September for a total of 22 weeks, will impact about 180 civilians who work at the Army training base.

The implementation of federal budget cuts mandated by sequestration began last week. The automatic spending cuts – they total $85 billion in the current fiscal year – took effect because the White House and congressional leaders failed to reach agreement on alternative reductions. The cuts, contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011, and initially were set to begin on Jan. 1 but were postponed two months by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

The reductions are split evenly between the defense and non-defense categories although some major safety net programs, such as Social Security, are exempt.

“It’s going to affect us just like any federal agency,” Robert McElroy, a spokesman for the Army installation, said in discussing the cuts last week.

Although the furlough days will hurt employees in the wallet and pocketbook, the impact on the fort was not immediately clear.

“If we don’t have enough people, it will definitely affect our ability” to support training activities on the installation, said McElroy.

“As for the impact on training, the furlough will reduce our ability to provide our current level of support to training units,” he said later in a follow-up e-mail. “But, we are looking into other solutions that would allow us to support units the same way we do know. I can’t get into the details yet because we haven’t been given a decision.”

Employees were notified of the furlough plans by their supervisors in recent weeks, according to McElroy.

The furlough applies to all civilian employees, but base officials are seeking an exception for police and firefighter personnel. “We don’t know yet whether our higher headquarters, Installation Management Command, has approved it,” added McElroy.

The fort has about 180 civilian employees, according to McElroy.

News of the furlough did not sit well with some employees who spoke with The Caroline Progress this week.

“Nobody’s really happy at all,” said Dorrance Tucker, vice president of Local 2902 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which serves base employees. “A lot of people are upset. They’re trying to get their jobs done, but it’s getting more and more difficult every day because we don’t have the personnel.”

Tucker, a fire alarm technician, said he will lose about $400 per paycheck, which he receives every two weeks. His monthly car payment is almost $400, he added. “That kind of puts a big damper on my spending.”

“Yeah, it’s going to put a dent in my wallet,” said a Caroline man who works at the fort but asked not to be identified.  The furlough is the equivalent of a 20 percent pay cut, he said.

“This is definitely not going to help the country,” he said. “It’s going to hurt the economy.”

“The morale is really bad,” he added. “What kind of incentive do you have to come to work every day, not knowing what’s going to happen?”

“When I first came here, it was a great place to work.”

“Congress is not getting their pay cut,” he noted.

Tucker also pointed out the base has been under a hiring freeze since January. Vacant positions are going unfilled. There are about five or six vacancies in his area, said Tucker.

Posted on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 4:36 pm