Military's round of furloughs nearing

The Connecticut National Guard will notify more than 600 military technicians today that they will be furloughed.

The human resources staff for the Guard is fanning out across the state today, the day after Memorial Day, to deliver the notices by hand to the technicians' offices. Under the current plan, the technicians have to take one day off each week for 11 weeks, from July 8 through the end of the fiscal year.

Col. Steve Gilbert, director of human resources for the Connecticut National Guard, said he was very reluctant to furlough anyone, but he has to follow the policy set by the Department of Defense. As a military technician, he too will be furloughed.

"It's going to be painful for those 11 weeks," he said. "I have to tell people, 'You're going to suffer a 20 percent pay reduction,' and we recognize that for anyone from the top of the scale to the bottom, 20 percent is a significant reduction."

The Department of Defense is furloughing most of its civilian personnel because automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, took effect March 1. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced May 14 that the department was short more than $30 billion in its accounts that are used to pay most civilian employees, maintain military readiness and respond to global contingencies.

The department was originally planning for twice as many furlough days, but Hagel said the Pentagon cut back on facilities maintenance, shifted funds from other accounts and reduced some of its non-essential programs.

About 1,300 DOD civilian employees work at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton and 750 of them would be furloughed under the current plan.

Capt. Marc W. Denno, the base commander, said, "Certainly the loss of work-hours from these dedicated and integral members of the team will impact base efficiency and support effectiveness."

But, he said, the safety and security of the base will not be compromised, and services for families, such as the Child Development Centers, will not be affected. Denno said he doesn't expect to reduce the hours that the gates are open or cut any more morale and recreation activities beyond those already canceled. The commissary, however, may close an additional day of the week.

Denno will turn over command of the base on Friday, May 31.

"All of this impacts morale and productivity and keeping Navy Team New London focused and moving forward is going to be my challenge through the end of this month and Capt. Carl Lahti's challenge as my relief, after," he said in a statement.

The Navy has said it may not have the $45 million it will cost to repair the USS Providence at Electric Boat this year. According to U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, the Navy has indicated that the submarine will go to EB this year after all; a key congressional committee supported funding two Virginia-class submarines in 2014; and repairs to the USS Miami are continuing.

Despite the good news for EB, Courtney, D-2nd District, said sequestration is "a poison that is seeping through the system and undermining military readiness."

"The sequestration mechanism is indiscriminate in terms of the way cuts are made, and for the individual workers and their families, it is outrageously unfair," he said. "They are being furloughed for 11 days, and they do important work."

The faculty and staff at the Coast Guard Academy are not being furloughed, but their travel to academic and professional seminars has been limited. Capt. Eric Jones, the assistant superintendent, said the summer training options for cadets are also limited because of travel restrictions, and commencement did not include the traditional military flyover.

"The Coast Guard Academy has the funding to sustain its programs, just at reduced levels," Jones said in a statement. "... Our plan has been to focus on reductions to certain discretionary programs to help mitigate impacts to our workforce and to the training of our future leaders."

Courtney said there is still a chance Congress can "turn off" sequestration in the coming months by agreeing to a compromise to reduce the deficit in a balanced way.

For the National Guard, the summer months are the busiest. Gilbert said he is hopeful the number of furlough days will be further reduced, since the majority of units still need to complete their annual training.

Hagel has said that while the plan is to continue the furloughs through the end of the fiscal year, he wants to end them early if possible.

In Connecticut, the Guard has about 680 military technicians who administer a variety of programs to train the soldiers and airmen and maintain the force, and who also serve in the Guard. The group includes human resources and finance specialists, legal clerks and aircraft maintainers, 619 of whom will be furloughed starting July 8.

At the 1109th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group in Groton, nearly 100 technicians will receive their notices today. They perform a variety of jobs at the maintenance facility as aircraft mechanics, avionics specialists, refueling specialists, inspectors, test pilots and administrative support personnel.

Some just returned home in April from 281 days of deployment to Kuwait and Afghanistan.

Those who are still on leave will have to take five or six furlough days when they return to work, said Lt. Col. Robert Burnside, the facility commander. That will bring the total number of the Guard's technicians who are affected to about 650 by early September, which will save $2 million, Gilbert said.

Burnside, who will be furloughed as well, said the months before the end of the fiscal year are typically a busy time. This year though, the units in the 14 states that the TASMG supports have reduced their flying hours due to sequestration so their aircraft are not requiring as much repair as usual, he said.

"I wouldn't want to do this for a year. That definitely would have an impact," Burnside said.

The negative effect on morale, however, is immediate, Gilbert added.

"You're affecting people's livelihoods, their income," he said. "It has an effect. It has a demoralizing effect, that we're being marginalized and somehow we're not significant enough for the federal government to pay us."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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