WASHINGTON — While the automatic federal budget cuts have spurred a blame game and little action in the nation’s capital, in the Air Force’s Pacific command they’ve triggered an apology from the top man.
Gen. Herbert J. Carlisle, who leads the U.S. Pacific Air Forces, with bases in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Japan and South Korea, sent an email last week to everyone who serves under his command lamenting the impact of the cuts. He cited the furlough for civilian military workers, in particular.
“It hurts me to say that after all our military has asked of our civilian employees and after their hard work and dedication, if the furlough is executed they will face 22 non-consecutive unpaid, non-duty days during the furlough period between 21 April and 21 September,” Carlisle wrote. “There is no other way to say it: This will have a significant financial impact on our civilians.”
The furloughs, likely to begin next month, will mean the loss of one day of work each week until the end of September.
Carlisle said Air Force officials were “doing everything in their power to avoid a furlough, as it breaks faith with those who tirelessly strive to make our Air Force better.”
Alaska has two Air Force bases that very likely will feel the impact of the budget reductions: Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, near Anchorage, and Eielson Air Force Base, near Fairbanks. Overall, Alaska will lose about $33 million this year because of furloughs affecting the civilian military workforce in all branches of the armed services.
Nationwide, the loss in civilian military income in all military branches will total about $4.8 billion, with California and Virginia facing the most.
“While some actions are out of our hands, I promise to do everything in my power to maintain . . . readiness, mission focus and financial well-being,” Carlisle wrote. “You are the Air Force’s most important asset, and our country owes you a debt of gratitude for your service and sacrifice.”
Carlisle said that because of the timing of the cuts – and the fact that some areas were fenced off from the budget knife – operations, maintenance and flying hours were being cut by 40 percent for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
“So bottom line, we’ll have to do less with less,” he wrote. “There will simply be some training events, operations and exercises that we won’t be able to support.”
The mandatory budget cuts, known as the sequester, will result in $85 billion in program reductions across the board, after Congress and the White House were unable to reach a deal by March 1 to prevent them.
Republicans have accused the Obama administration of hyping the cuts – such as cutting back on White House tours – to score political points. Some voices in the debate have questioned whether the impact on defense will be as serious as administration officials have said it will be.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, recently referred to President Barack Obama as “Chicken Little,” and labeled his arguments as fear-mongering.”
“It’s clear there will be some effect on readiness, but it’s really hard to known exactly what the effects would be,” said Jacob Stokes, a defense expert at the Center for a New American Security, a centrist research organization.
1st Lt. AnnMarie Annicelli, a spokeswoman for the Pacific Air Forces, said that without a new budget deal, the command faced cuts of about $103 million. On an annual basis, and if the reductions were applied to the entire budget, that represents about a 10 percent reduction.
But because the cuts don’t cover the entire budget – military personnel costs, for instance, are exempt – and because they come midway through the fiscal year, “it feels like 40 percent.”
She said there’d be some effect on achieving the command’s goal of being able to “fight tonight,” including the likelihood that pilots would get less vital flight training.
“With any reduction of flying hours . . . pilots will make heavy use of available simulators and academic training to maintain basic skills and knowledge of their aircraft,” Annicelli said. But she added that the command’s “ability to develop and deploy our airmen will be severely reduced.”