Navy braces for second set of automatic budget cuts
NORFOLK, Va. -- A second year of automatic budget cuts that eat into Navy training and maintenance will start Tuesday unless Congress intercedes. And this time, the leader of U.S. Fleet Forces Command is planning for the worst.
Adm. Bill Gortney said the across-the-board reductions will force him to curtail training for sailors, which includes steaming and flying hours, and delay or cancel scheduled overhauls of Navy ships. He also warned that lost Navy ship repair contracts could do permanent damage to smaller subcontractors in the region that employ thousands of skilled workers.
"I'm not worried about the big ship companies," he said Tuesday. "I'm worried about the little, what I'll call mom-and-pops that live contract to contract. And that if we make those decisions, they may go out of business."
The workers they employ have specific skills that would be hard to replace, he said.
Gortney stressed that while training time will be curtailed for many, it will ramp up for those sailors who are closer to being deployed. No one will be sent out until they're ready, he said.
The military is dealing with automatic cuts that are part of a 10-year, $1.2 trillion reduction in defense and domestic spending known as sequestration. The Navy was forced to trim $10.7 billion in 2013 and must slash $14 billion more in the new fiscal year starting next week.
But even while planning for drastic cutbacks, Gortney said he won't take any actions that can't be reversed. Navy officials are asking Congress to provide more money or at least give them more discretion on where to make cuts.
In a sweeping interview in his office, Gortney also spoke about security on naval installations in the wake of the shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard last week. Police say contractor Aaron Alexis entered the base with his badge and a shotgun and killed 12 people before he was gunned down.
Alexis was widely reported to have had secret security clearance.
The incident prompted reviews of security procedures at military bases. Gortney, who is also in charge of anti-terrorism force protection across the Navy, was tapped to look at physical security at naval installations. The first stage of that review will be completed Friday, when he submits his assessment of how clear Department of Defense guidance is and how well bases are complying with it.
The second stage, which must be completed by Oct. 31, will determine whether current procedures are adequate and what changes are recommended.
Gortney said he just finished a six-month-long review of anti-terrorism procedures at naval installations across the U.S. and was able to draw on that to quickly prepare this week's initial assessment.
He would not detail the findings but said the review does identify needed improvements.
One of the biggest and most difficult threats is an attack from inside an installation, Gortney said. The military relies on layers of defense that start with proper screening of personnel and continue with guards at the gate and inside the base. Finally, first responders are on call if trouble develops.
"You hope there are no seams in the process," Gortney said. "I think we do a pretty good job 99 percent of the time. But there are always going to be leakers, as evidenced by the tragedy at the Navy Yard."
Gortney said that if the final review calls for improvements, the Navy will find the money for them, even during sequestration.
"The safety of our sailors, civilians and our families is forefront on our minds," he said, "and we will make the necessary investments to make sure we do the right thing."
Separate from dealing with sequestration-related cuts, Gortney, like other military officials, said he is preparing for a possible government shutdown should Congress fail to approve at least a short-term budget before the new fiscal year begins Tuesday.
He declined to discuss details but said they would not affect security or forward military operations.
If Congress does not approve a spending bill, those in uniform, including more than 69,000 active-duty service members in Hampton Roads, would continue to work but would not get paid until legislators agree to a budget.
An additional 22,000 civilian Navy employees in the region either would be told to stay home or could be required to work for no pay until Congress adopts a spending plan.
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