By Heather Clark, Courier staff June 28, 2013
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Since the beginning of the year, members of Fort Campbell's civilian workforce have carried out their duties under the persistent loom of a proposed mandatory furlough. Though the plan was not etched in stone, contingencies were laid out and discussed in-depth during a Garrison Town Hall meeting March 1.
Since that time, civilian employees throughout the Department of Defense have waited for the other proverbial shoe to drop -- which happened in the form of notification letters, distributed to affected personnel between May 30 and June 7.
Fort Campbell Garrison Commander Col. David "Buck" Dellinger held a media roundtable Friday afternoon to address concerns and talk plans of action regarding the furlough and its effects on the installation.
"From the secretary of defense level down, the option of a furlough has been our least-preferred course of action," he said. "…due to many budgetary constraints, we have been directed to furlough our civilian employees for 88 hours, distributed over an 11-week period."
Letters of notice were distributed to more than 3,000 civilian employees of Fort Campbell, informing them of the loss of one day per work week between July 8 and Sept. 30. Dellinger explained that, in monetary terms, 20 percent of the employees' pay during that time would be redirected.
"This is unfortunate and obviously not desired," he said.
Recipients of notice letters were given until Friday to reply and offer exceptional circumstances where applicable.
"Deciding officials are reviewing those letters now," said Dellinger. "Limited exceptions to furlough may be granted by the deciding officials for life/health/safety justifications."
Dellinger emphasized that only employees whose missions were essential to Fort Campbell would be considered for furlough exceptions, and he did not sugar-coat the gravity of the situation.
"It's going to put a strain on Fort Campbell," he said.
"It's going to put a strain on a lot of Families out there, but we're going to lead ourselves through this situation and continue to do our best to prepare our Families, prepare our Soldiers who are deployed and prepare our Soldiers who are going to deploy."
Much of the focus regarding furlough impact has gone to air traffic control, where exception contingencies stand at the ready in order to safely maintain Fort Campbell's busy airspace.
"This is a busy airfield, and we realize that," said Dellinger. "That is the area of most concern. Right now I have 25 air traffic controllers on hand, and I'm trying to get four more. We're not going to lose control of our airspace, and we're not going to put aircraft and Families and Soldiers at risk."
Asked about the effects the civilian employee furlough would have on the Soldiers of Fort Campbell, Dellinger was again frank in his explanation.
"Every day that we curtail or defer training for Soldiers, we curtail or defer maintenance on their facilities, is readiness that's being lost," he explained. "We'll muddle through this 11 weeks, but we've got to get the funding so we can fully train and support the Soldiers and get the maintenance on their facilities up to a level that will support readiness."
According to Dellinger, the Sustain, Restore and Modernize budget for the installation went from $62.5 million at the beginning of the year to roughly $31.3 million.
"We are more than $23 million short on the kind of restoration that we need to do for our facilities in the long-term," he said. "Collective training has got to be maintained and sustained. The garrison supports all that training with our civilian workforce."
Also affected by the furlough will be the more than 5,000 students who attend Fort Campbell's nine elementary, middle and high schools, who will miss a total of five school days during the furlough period. Fortunately, it has been guaranteed that the missed days will have no adverse affect on the advancement or graduation of students. The effect on the students' Families is another matter.
"What's going to happen those days?" said Dellinger. "Obviously parents that would be going to work are going to be challenged. They're going to have to take some time off, potentially."
It is likely that many Families will explore summer youth programs available through Morale, Welfare and Recreation during this time period.
"Since NAF [Non-appropriated Funds] is exempt, and many within MWR are NAF, and since for the most part our funding is self-generated, we anticipate no change in our MWR business hours," explained Melissa Schaffner, marketing manager for MWR Fort Campbell. "Army Community Services is going to stagger the scheduling of furlough hours so that business hours will not change. Some services may require longer wait times."
According to Steve Martin, general manager of the Fort Campbell Exchange, hours at the NAF-funded organization are not currently scheduled to change as a result of the furlough.
"Unless the furlough results in a severe impact on sales, the Exchange will not change its hours of operation," he said.
The same cannot be said for the Commissary, however. While the furlough is in effect at Fort Campbell, the new store will be closed each Monday, beginning July 8.
The bottom line is that civilian employees will endure a 20 percent loss of pay during the furlough period. Moreover, the installation will operate at 20 percent less capacity, with the exception of areas pertinent to life/health/safety. And though another fiscal year will begin in October, there is no guarantee that the budgetary crises currently faced by federal institutions will miraculously vanish with the turn of a calendar page.
"The DoD and Army budgeters are looking at how to deal with next year's constraints," said Dellinger. "We don't want for it to happen, but there's always the potential for furloughs again next year. That's not off the table."