Employee town halls address budget
February 21, 2013
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- About $1.2 trillion in budget cuts, about half of which come from defense spending, are scheduled to go into effect March 1 if Congress and President Barack Obama cannot reach a deal to avert them. Naturally, Fort Jackson civilian service employees are apprehensive about how those cuts might affect their jobs.
"Will there be sequestration or not?" Brig. Gen Bryan Roberts asked a gathering of MEDDAC and DENTAC employees at the Post Theater Tuesday morning.
Fort Jackson's commanding general has called the first of several civilian employee town hall meetings to address these fears. Unfortunately, he said, there is not much information to be shared.
"We'll just have to wait and see," Roberts said. "We've been at war for (more than 10) years, and that has cost the country a substantial amount of money. Since we've spent so much money on the war, there will be cuts."
TRADOC's potential share of the Army's budget reductions, for example, is about 20 percent of the total budget for fiscal year 2013. Fort Jackson has already reduced its operating budget 5.5 percent for the fiscal year, but has not yet achieved the results required to operate within its fiscal restraints, Roberts said.
"We need to do things more efficiently to make sure we're not wasting government resources," Roberts said. "We are not going to let the decisions we make impact our mission. The uncertainty is affecting our workforce, because it's a fear of the unknown."
The goal of the town hall meetings is to share available information about the potential impact of sequestration on Fort Jackson's workforce, he said, but there's not much information to share at the moment. Command will probably find out what happens the same way everyone else will, he said, by following the media on March 1.
"My intent is to tell you everything about what we know now," Roberts said. "I know that everybody's watching television and the news, and talking about it with ... coworkers. I've been in the Army for almost 30 years and know the value of being as transparent as possible."
Services will continue as they did last year, but no new services will be introduced, Roberts said.
"Sequestration is not an Army thing," said Col. Mark Higdon, commander of Moncrief Army Community Hospital. "This is the U.S.A. that will go into sequestration."
None of the "phased plans" that have been discussed by Fort Jackson command have included "cutting a single service," Higdon said. But, decisions made from higher up the chain of command could result in changes that are not currently anticipated.
"Could it come? You'd better believe it," he said. "But it's not on the books right now."
Brenda Waldrop, Fort Gordon Civilian Personnel Advisory Center director, said there has been no talk of furloughs to handle budget cuts. CPAC has outlined possibilities for how to handle "surplus employees" should budget cuts and "greening" force layoffs, but furloughs are not currently part of those plans.
"Furlough is a tool of last resort," Waldrop said.
The secretary of the Army is the approving authority for furloughs. MEDDAC has approved 400 early retirement positions, Roberts said, and Fort Jackson has already begun to change the way it handles contracts as budget cuts loom. Some contracts will not be renewed, he said, while others will be negotiated on a short-term basis.
"We're sort of pleading with you all," Roberts said, "to just hang in there with us."
The next civilian employee town hall meeting is scheduled from 1:30 to 3 p.m., March 1 at the Solomon Center. It is open to civilian employees of all organizations.