PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- Dr. Gerardo Melendez, Director of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, added a new twist to his most recent Town Hall Meeting on Feb. 11 by taking questions from the audience at the Lindner Conference Center and from remote television viewers who sent questions by e-mail.

The questions showed that the listeners were attuned to the fiscal uncertainty that surrounds the lack of an appropriations bill and the looming sequestration.

The terms describe fiscal reductions that could potentially impact personnel, training, readiness, acquisition, management, infrastructure and sustainment throughout the Army.

Lacking an appropriation for the current fiscal year, the Army is operating under a continuing resolution that expires March 27.

Continuing resolutions significantly affect proposed new programs but retain previous-year spending levels on existing programs, Melendez explained.

Because ARDEC's programmed spending existed previously, there would be little impact on ARDEC even if a new appropriations bill was not approved this year.

Sequestration, however, would impose defense spending reductions, and several Town Hall questions pertained to a 22-day civilian furlough that has been discussed by Army officials as a mechanism to respond to those reductions.

"The Defense Department has also stated that their preference was to reach their fiscal targets in other ways," Melendez said. The other ways include limits to materials purchases, contracts and travel.

Several questioners asked if Voluntary Early Retirement Authority and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments would be offered. VERA helps minimize the impact of an agency's budgetary situation by providing authority to restructure a workforce and thereby reduce personnel. VSIP is an incentive for employees to separate by voluntary retirement or resignation.

Melendez explained that while ARDEC has received 135 allocations for VERA and VSIP, he would not use them now.

"If I were to create the incentive for people to leave, I would not be able to fill the positions," he said. "We'll look at it again in a month or when the hiring freeze is lifted."

Melendez said the possibility that the fiscal reductions could take place has already resulted in a civilian hiring freeze throughout Army Materiel Command, to which ARDEC is a subordinate organization.

Other budgetary constraints that may take place locally include curtailing developmental training and education, limiting facility repair and maintenance to emergencies, reducing base support services, reducing supplies purchases and limiting contractor support.

Melendez said that no action will be taken to release ARDEC's 97 temporary or seven term employees unless that action was directed by the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command.

Asked by an audience member if the budget uncertainty was causing concern that some personnel would look to the commercial sector for work, Melendez responded: "That's a real concern going forward, and it's something that may already be happening."

Climate Survey mostly good news, but work remains Melendez displayed several slides on results of the 48-question 2012 ARDEC Climate Survey in which 60 percent of the ARDEC workforce responded. "I was very happy overall with what the survey tells us," he said.

Areas he highlighted as top success indicators were that 90 percent understand how their work relates to the ARDEC mission, and 88 percent understand ARDEC's strategic objectives and mission.

The areas that the survey indicate most need work were in that 70 percent felt they were deservedly recognized and 55 percent feel non-monetary recognition is given deservedly. "I will address these areas," said Melendez.

Melendez asked the workforce to participate in a "difficult exercise" by posting suggestions on his blog about what ARDEC could do now to position itself for success in the future.

"What I'm asking you to do is put yourself in the future. Imagine you're looking back at the past ten years at ARDEC.

The blog, he said would contribute to the current phase of the ARDEC strategic planning process. In his update on the subject Melendez said that the headquarters staff has completed the mission, vision, values and principles portion and is now conducting environmental scans, SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) and stakeholder analysis.

Melendez also announced two key promotions. Col. James P. Ross, was promoted to his current rank here on Feb. 1. Ross serves as ARDEC's military deputy director, or in parlance, he is referred to simply as "the mil-dep."

Andrew Schaefer who is the deputy director of the Armament Software Engineering Center, was promoted to brigadier general at Fort Indiantown Gap, Penn. on Feb 9th. Schafer now serves in his Army National Guard role as assistant division commander of the 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard.