Locally, sequestration would cancel contracts, jeopardize facilities

If Congress does not act to prevent the automatic spending cuts set to begin Friday, more than half of the Connecticut National Guard's full-time soldiers and about 1,300 workers at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton may be furloughed.

At Electric Boat, executives have to figure out what they would do if the Navy delays or cancels contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to repair two submarines and build a second attack submarine in 2014. The repair contracts could create hundreds of jobs in the trades at the Groton shipyard.

On Tuesday, the Connecticut National Guard continued to work on a plan to deal with sequestration, while EB was waiting to hear from the Navy about what cuts have gone from likely to definite.

Military personnel will not be furloughed. But of the Connecticut National Guard's 1,100 full-time employees, 650 are civilian military technicians, and 576 of them could have to take one day off a week, without pay, starting in April, which is effectively a 20 percent pay cut.

Eighty-six technicians work at the 1109th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group in Groton. If they don't work a full week, it will take longer to repair helicopters at the facility, said Col. John Whitford, the Guard's spokesman.

The Guard is facing about a $30 million cut, and the accounts for training and for equipment and facilities maintenance would be hardest hit, Whitford said. The annual budget from the federal government is $300 million.

Out-of-state annual training would stop. Fifteen units with 1,300 soldiers are planning to train out of state this year. They would have to train in Connecticut, but units that are already scheduled to train in Connecticut are using the facilities here.

The impact of the cuts would not be felt right away, Whitford said, but he is worried that over time, the cuts could degrade the Guard's readiness. It could get to a point where the Guard's equipment would not be ready for missions, he said. In his two years in office, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has called on the Guard during five declared disasters.

"When looking at these cuts, something has to give," Whitford said, adding that the units deploying on federal missions would train and maintain equipment as planned.

Sub base furloughs, cuts

Like the Guard, the submarine base was preparing Tuesday for furloughs and deep cuts in funding for maintenance and upkeep.

About 1,300 civilians work across a range of departments on the base, from security and maintenance to Morale, Welfare and Recreation, housing and the Navy Exchange. The base has not received the final word as to who would be exempt, said Christopher Zendan, the base spokesman, but the current guidance states that most civilians would be furloughed.

The government is operating on a continuing resolution, which keeps funding at last year's levels. The Navy has said that if Congress extends the resolution for the rest of the fiscal year, bases will receive 10 percent less money for upkeep and half as much to maintain their facilities. Two demolition projects in Groton worth $13 million would be canceled and a civilian hiring freeze would be implemented.

Additional cuts would affect training, travel and purchasing, and the base can't award contracts for new construction, support and services. The commissary may close for an additional day each week and there could be fewer morale programs, Zendan said.

The base may become less efficient as a result, Zendan said, but it would continue to provide for the nation's defense.

Coast Guard, EB

The Coast Guard has no plans to furlough civilian employees, according to Lt. Paul D. Rhynard, a spokesman. Rhynard said the budget cuts would affect all Coast Guard activities, but he wouldn't speculate on specific units, including the Coast Guard Academy.

"Our approach is to allocate funds and resources to prevent disruptions and preserve the most essential operations," he said. "That said, maintaining workforce training and operational proficiency is a major priority in our planning process."

At EB, spokesman Robert Hamilton said the company is waiting to hear from the Navy. Defense Department program managers recently were given permission to talk about sequestration with contractors.

The Navy has said publicly that sequestration would force it to delay repairs to the Groton-based USS Miami, which was severely damaged in a fire at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, in May. EB received a $94 million contract in September to begin the repairs.

The Navy said last week it likely would not purchase a second Virginia-class submarine in 2014 and would cancel a $45 million job to repair the USS Providence at EB if Congress does not agree on a new budget. EB has been working on a concept for module with missile tubes that could be added to Virginia-class submarines to boost firepower. That also wouldn't move forward until a budget is passed.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, met last week with the Metal Trades Council, which represents about 2,500 EB employees.

"It has been a tough 20 or so years for a lot of these guys, who have been there when production and repairs were cut so strongly after the Cold War," he said. "We're really on the cusp of a new era, and now it's all being put into disarray."

EB planned to hire about 350 people in the trades in the coming months to work on the Miami and the Providence, Kenneth DelaCruz, president of the Metal Trades Council, said.

"Now there's a dark cloud hanging over us," he said, adding that some people have been hired and are in training but the rest of the new hires are on hold.

The potential loss of the second submarine in 2014 is the biggest concern, DelaCruz said, since hundreds of people will work on each shift when construction is at its peak. Hundreds more work on projects at the public shipyards, and it is unclear how they would be affected if civilians in the shipyards are furloughed.

"Hopefully, they figure this thing out and Monday is just another Monday for us," DelaCruz said. "But we are very, very concerned."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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