Furloughs in full effect on JBM-HH
The Pentagon with the Washington Monument and National Mall in the background. The Department of Defense began its mandatory furloughs of civilian employees July 8 around the world.

JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - The new fiscal reality is here. The Department of Defense began its mandatory furloughing of civilian employees July 8 around the world, and after two weeks, the reality is starting to sink in. Like many military bases, the furloughs have brought some closures and amended operating hours for services and activities on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.

"Normal operating hours are no longer the standard. Some offices will be closed because we don't have the personnel to rotate schedules through the furlough allowing us to stay open Monday through Friday," said JBM-HH Commander, Col. Fern O. Sumpter. "It's really important that people call ahead to make sure the service or office they're about to visit is actually open that day. Normal operating hours should not be assumed."

Civilian employees affected by the furloughs received letters the first week of June notifying them that the administrative furlough was necessary due to the serious budgetary challenges the DoD is facing for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. The joint base commander has a comprehensive order she must follow in implementing the furloughs on JBM-HH.

"I have to do what DoD tells me, and then I have to do what IMCOM tells me," the colonel said. "The Installation Management Command commander has published an [operation order] and [fragment order] directing commanders on how we're supposed to implement the furlough."

She is held accountable for managing the command's resources and abiding with the order with minimal exceptions to the furloughs.

"During the furlough, not only are the normal operating hours for some places going to change, but the only way I'm allowed to have someone come in, or a service to be provided during a furlough day, is if life, health or safety is impacted," said the commander.

"If I have a life, health or safety issue on a day when the person who responds to those issues is furloughed, there are procedures spelled out on how to recall them. It's not a unilateral decision where I can make the decision. It really is driven by the IMCOM order," she said.

While she empathizes with customers who are inconvenienced by furlough closures, she said it isn't a justification for making an exception if it's not a matter of life, health or safety. "I have to honor the furlough," she continued.

"It is very difficult because I have some very super-stellar, highly-dedicated, motivated employees who don't want the mission to fail. Either having to close an office for a day, meaning a customer doesn't have access or having to alter a service in any way, to them is a certain failure. And they don't want to accept that.

"I have to reiterate that this is something that we have to do," Sumpter explained. "The customers will understand. Everyone is doing this furlough. And where I appreciate everyone's dedication, the one thing I cannot allow them to do is work on their furlough."

This includes answering their government cell phones, responding to work emails or doing any government business on a furlough day. She explained how she's learning to manage her expectations based on the new operating reality.

"For me personally, it's been a challenge to not be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that I know can get a job done and who I've relied upon a lot, because it's their furlough day. As the commander, I also have to exercise some restraint.

"Reality versus expectations really runs the full spectrum from the customer all the way up to the most senior person," she said. "All of us as leaders set the example. We can't ask for more than our employees can provide. This is not a do-more-with-less policy.

"I've said that from the beginning," she continued. "I will not ask my people to do more with less. We will do the very best with the resources available. We will strive to provide excellent customer service."

Sumpter said she understands that this is a very difficult time for the workforce, and it's hard to keep spirits high when facing a decrease in pay.

"I'm mostly concerned about everyone's morale. It's hard. You're losing 20 percent of your pay by no fault of your own. That's hard on people," the joint base commander said. "We've been talking about this furlough since I arrived in July 2012. People have been prepping for it. There's a huge difference between the preparation and the execution. This is only the very beginning of the furlough. We won't really be able to gauge how employees are surviving - either financially, mentally, or emotionally - until we're halfway through when it really starts to impact finances."

While it is tough to see the cuts to personnel pay as a workforce leader, Sumpter stressed the main expectation of her as a base commander during these furloughs is to save money across the board.

"The bottom line is we're all expected to gain savings across the DoD. We all have to do our part. If there are commanders that are not paying diligence to what we've been directed to do, that only further impedes the process to help our government with the budget," she said.

"I just ask that the entire community bond together and accept that this is a reality from now until the end of September. And personally I pray that it doesn't go beyond September," said Sumpter. "The impacts are unavoidable. I just ask the entire community's patience with my workforce and each other. It's going to be challenging.

"We're in this together. We need to come together as a community to embrace our new reality," she said.

Page last updated Mon July 22nd, 2013 at 00:00