Thousand of civilians working for the military in Utah will be forced to take 22 unpaid days off if Congress and President Barack Obama do not reach a budget agreement soon.
Sequestration, which would slash defense and other federal budgets dramatically — including $86 million from the military civilian payroll in Utah — will take effect March 1 if there is no agreement on gentler cuts.
Sen. Orrin Hatch told Utah lawmakers on Wednesday that he supports sequestration if it comes to that. “We’ve got to face the music now, or it will be much tougher later.”
Nonetheless, he said sequestration would be an economic blow to Utah, where 11,500 at Hill Air Force Base alone would be furloughed one day per week, losing 8.5 percent of their yearly pay. The cuts, he said, would be “devastating to our nation’s readiness.”
The Utah National Guard is prepared to furlough more than 1,000 civilians for one day a week from April through September, if sequestration occurs, said Gen. Jefferson Burton, adjutant general.
At the Army Dugway Proving Ground, more than 700 civilian workers could be affected by furloughs, said spokeswoman Paula Thomas. Details have not yet been worked out, she said.
HAFB had 16,271 civilian employees and 5,525 military employees last year. The military workers are exempt from the furloughs and so are 3,726 civilians who work in jobs that Congress does not appropriate money for, such as in restaurants and stores. The furloughs would not affect the remaining 1,045 civilians.
Lt. Gen. Bruce A. Litchfield told those under his command in Air Force Sustainment Center, including at HAFB’s Ogden Air Logistics Complex, that they should save money and cut back personal spending just in case.
“I know this affects more than just the mission; it has a personal impact on each and every one of you,” Litchfield told employees. “… We need to remain productive and keep our eyes on safety; do not let the uncertainty of our times cause you to take your eye off the ball.”
While civilian workers will personally take the brunt of cuts under sequestration, all branches of the service warn that the nation’s military readiness will be hurt.
Air Force Materiel Command, which is the branch HAFB falls under, warned that aircraft maintenance will be reduced and there will be less funding for long-term research and development.
Already, HAFB has a temporary civilian hiring freeze and has announced it may let go temporary and other employees who aren’t critical to the mission. Travel that isn’t essential has been cancelled and supply purchases deferred, according to base spokesman Rich Essary.
Sequestration would force the Utah Guard to reduce maintenance on equipment — a task performed entirely by civilians — and its pilots would get less flying time to train, Burton said.
“Training is a perishable thing, and that’s a big concern,” Burton said.