WASHINGTON – Some 280 civilian employees at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station will be furloughed every Monday starting in late April, and the 914th Airlift Wing will be grounded on that day as “sequestration,” the painful set of automatic budget cuts engineered by President Obama and Congress, takes effect.
Base officials announced the furloughs Wednesday, and these furloughs could be just the start. The furlough announcement covers employees of the Air Force Reserve unit at the base, but the Air National Guard unit, the 107th Airlift Wing, has not yet announced its budget-cutting plan.
“Should these furloughs take effect in late April, the plan is for the 914th Airlift Wing to be closed for business on Mondays through the fiscal year,” said Col. Allan Swartzmiller, the unit’s commander. “However, base security and emergency services will still be maintained.”
The furloughs mean that the full-time employees at the 914th will lose 20 percent of their take-home pay through Sept. 30, when the 2013 federal fiscal year ends.
“We are doing everything in our power to avoid or minimize the effects of this administrative furlough on our employees as it breaks faith with those who have proven themselves both effective and efficient to our mission and have made our Air Force better,” Swartzmiller said.
Base officials announced the furloughs at a town hall meeting in Niagara Falls on Wednesday attended by more than 300 people.
Still, some of the details of the cutbacks remain to be worked out.
Pentagon officials have not given base officials an exact date for the start of the furloughs. While the current target date is late April, “that could slip,” said Sgt. Kevin Nichols, a spokesman for the 914th.
The Department of Defense has said it will have to furlough most of its civilian employees for 22 nonconsecutive days to comply with sequestration.
At the 914th, “the decision was to keep everyone on the same page” and simply shut down the unit’s civilian operations on Mondays, Nichols said.
Things could change, Nichols added, if the 914th is deployed overseas – as it has been repeatedly over its history.
The civilian furloughs are the second big blow to strike the Niagara Falls base.
A $28.1 million simulator project has been put on hold because of sequestration. Base officials say the simulator – which will be used to train Air Force Reserve cargo plane pilots from throughout the Northeast – is key to the base’s future.
Such cutbacks are occurring throughout the military because sequestration will reduce defense spending by 13 percent for the rest of the year, compared with 9 percent for most other federal programs.
Obama and Congress agreed to those across-the-board cuts, hoping that they would be so draconian that they would force compromise on a more planned and orderly deficit reduction plan.
But the president and lawmakers never even came close to a deal to replace the sequestration cuts, which started to take effect March 1.