By Wallace McBride, Fort Jackson LeaderMarch 22, 2013
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Roughly 800,000 Defense Department employees can expect to receive furlough notices next week.
Across-the-board automatic federal budget cuts went into effect March 1 that could require civil servants to take one day of unpaid leave each week until the end of September. The furloughs are scheduled to begin April 26. Once notices arrive, employees have a seven-day window to appeal. Fort Jackson has scheduled two town hall meetings March 27 and 28 to allow command to directly address how the potential furloughs will impact day-to-day activities on Fort Jackson.
"This is the week all employees should receive proposal letters," said Fort Jackson Deputy Chief of Staff Gerald Henderson. "Later on, when we get closer to April 26, they will get a final notification that we're going to do a furlough."
Meanwhile, Henderson said the command is devising a strategy to prevent furloughs from affecting the core mission of Fort Jackson, which is to train Soldiers.
"We've pulled together all those functions, all those organizations, all those directorates that contribute to the success or failure associated with that mission," Henderson said. "The challenge isn't so much a matter of establishing days away from work for employees, it's in projecting the longterm consequences of running an Army post with few hours in the work week. Cuts will have a ripple effect across different commands as budget cuts are implemented."
Henderson said one of the biggest challenges presented by the proposed furloughs is within the Directorate of Logistics, an office tasked with responsibilities, ranging from managing transportation management services to providing organizational clothing and equipment.
"They are the organization that provides us drivers for buses, they provide us seamstresses for tailoring a Soldier's jacket, and provide oversight for the contracts for dining facilities," he said.
Cuts to these services will have combined effects that reach beyond the actual furlough day. For example, uniforms have to be altered several times for Soldiers in Basic Combat Training because bodies will change as they adapt to the program.
"You only have so many seamstresses who can do that," Henderson said. "We don't have that kind of talent within our Soldier population, so I can't grab 10 Soldiers and tell them to operate a sewing machine."
The strategy of protecting the post's core mission is filtering down to the post's partners in excellence, among them Moncrief Army Community Hospital, which is also devising a plan to implement sequestration budget reductions. MACH Commander Col. Mark Higdon said there are no plans to eliminate services at the hospital, though.
"Active duty medical care is an absolute priority and will be preserved," Higdon said. "At this time, no services will be closed or canceled because of sequestration. We are preparing our military staff to handle daily operations that would normally be conducted by our civilian workforce should the need arise."
Furloughs would affect more than 700 employees at MACH, he said, but will not end any hospital services, though delays are expected.
"Appointments could be reduced on Mondays and Fridays for routine concerns but will be fully available Tuesday through Thursday," he said. "Urgent and same day health care concerns will be available in primary care clinics areas such as our Integrated Health Clinics, Moncrief Medical Home, and Urgent Care Center."
Because furloughs will force MACH to operate with fewer employees during the week, scheduling appointments by telephone might take longer than usual, he warned.
"We will continue to provide top quality care for our patients and families, which is why we are encouraging patients to use TRICARE Online at www.tricareonline.com to book appointments," Higdon said. "This will reduce the time you have to wait to schedule appointments."
Caldwell Dental Clinic is expected to face similar issues. "I hope to see no decrement in service capabilities for the General Dentistry section of the DENTAC. What may be slightly affected is specialty care," said DENTAC Commander Col. Jamie Houston. Some days of the week are busier than others," he said, and there's no easy solution for finding time in the week where it's convenient to operate with a reduced workforce.
Regardless of what happens, Houston said wounded warriors will remain a priority. "Since Fort Jackson DENTAC is designated as a First Term Dental Readiness site, we will have to follow as closely as we can the numbers of new trainees as they present from our Training Battalions," Houston said. "For example, we at first spoke of a 20 percent daily furlough for the civilian populace. However, we know that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the busiest days for our First Term Dental Readiness mission at Caldwell Dental Clinic, so no civilians will be furloughed on those days."
Houston said DENTAC is considering furloughs for 67 employees, which is 95 percent of its staff, on Fridays, with six headquarters staff members rotating furlough days during the week.
"We house a one-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry Residency program at Fort Jackson. Those eight residents engage in didactic studies on Fridays, so patient care will not be affected," Houston said. "We expect no changes in how appointments are scheduled during this trying time for our dedicated civilian workforce."