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Navy Region Northwest extends hiring freeze beyond shipyard

BANGOR, Wash. — Navy Region Northwest will cut costs to shield deployed sailors from a budget impasse.

Naval Installations Command directed the region to start finding ways to reduce spending, as Naval Sea Systems Command a few days earlier had instructed Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility. So far, only a civilian hiring freeze is in place, said region spokesman Sean Hughes. Other measures are just beginning to be examined.

Navy Region Northwest, which is headquartered at Bangor, comprises installations in six states, including nearby Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton, Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor and Naval Undersea Warfare Center-Keyport.

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The Navy is facing a financial double whammy. A 9 percent cut across 2,500 defense programs, which would have cost the Navy $4.6 billion through the end of the fiscal year, was postponed until March 1. It's part of $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years — half from defense — that Congress warned about if it couldn't reach a debt-reduction deal. It didn't.

A second threat is a "continuing resolution." Congress failed to pass a 2013 defense appropriations bill. The Navy is receiving funds at 2012 levels and spending them at a 2013 rate, expecting its budget request to be enacted. The resolution, which has been in effect since October, ends March 27. If it's extended for the rest of the fiscal year, it would put the Navy back another $4.6 billion.

They could both occur at once.

"If that happens, lady and gentlemen," Navy Under Secretary Robert Work said at the Surface Navy Association's annual conference last week, "the world as we know it will end. There's just no way you can keep the Navy whole and keep the Marine Corps whole."

Navy Region Northwest is considering measures similar to the shipyard's. All originated with a Jan. 13 letter from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. Lt. j.g. Caroline Hutcheson, with the Navy news desk in Washington, D.C., said Navy budget and financial offices are still working to determine the details and expect to have more information soon.

Region commanders are authorized to reduce temporary and term employees. The Defense Department is providing voluntary separation incentives and voluntary early retirements. Regions are to plan for the possibility of a one-day furlough per week starting April 16. Only mandatory overtime is allowed. All nonessential travel is suspended. Base operating support contracts could be deferred or reduced. Maintenance and equipment replacement could be postponed. Supplies and contractor support could be kept to a minimum, ferry and emergency vehicle maintenance deferred, and restoration and modernization projects curtailed.

"None of these decisions will be easy to make, but we must make them if we are to continue to help meet — in just this year alone — operational Navy requirements," said Rear Adm. Mark Rich, Navy Region Northwest commander. " … It is the hope that prudent steps may prevent a serious readiness shortfall in coming months. The Navy's readiness to defend this nation, now and in the future, depends upon it."
 

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