ANISTON, Ala. — Anniston Army Depot workers could avoid possible forced unpaid leave next year through a defense spending bill the U.S. House passed Wednesday.
The House on Wednesday passed a $512.5 billion Defense Appropriations bill for the 2014 fiscal year. It provides money for national security needs and includes an amendment that would prohibit future sequestration-related furloughs at installations with Department of Defense civilian employees, such as the depot. Furloughs scheduled this year would not be affected. The bill must still pass the Senate and be signed by President Barack Obama before becoming law.
Depot employees earlier this month began the first of 11 days’ worth of furloughs that will extend through the end of the year. The furloughs are due to sequestration, a series of major budget cuts that began in March.
The depot employs 2,817 people, most of whom repair, modify or upgrade combat vehicles and small arms for the military.
"We have taken two of the 11 furlough days and are on schedule to continue the remainder of the furlough days," said Col. Brent Bolander, commander of the depot. "We have not received any guidance regarding additional furlough days in fiscal year 2014."
While furloughs are not yet scheduled for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has in recent weeks said they could be a possibility. The amendment prohibits any money from being used to furlough civilian Department of Defense employees due to sequestration.
"If the Senate and president act quickly, this could block furloughs ... starting fiscal year 2014 on Oct. 1, 2013," said Shea Snider Miller, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks.
In a Thursday press release, Rogers said he strongly supported the House legislation.
"I continue to believe the current furloughs are ill-advised and will result in increased costs for the taxpayer while damaging our nation's readiness," Rogers said in a Thursday press release. "While the bill is not yet law, I call on the Defense Department to follow Congress' lead and end these wasteful and inefficient furloughs at facilities like the Anniston Army Depot."
Charles Barclay, second vice president for the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1945, which represents depot workers, said the union has been working with Congress and Rogers in support of the amendment.
"We're happy the amendment went through, and we're now looking forward to the next step," Barclay said. "The furloughs are a terrible act against our employees since we have appropriated funding and already have carryover funding for 2014."
Barclay noted that work had not slowed down at the depot due to the furloughs.
"We support the warfighters ... so we do our best to get the work out whether there are furloughs or not," he said.
Nathan Hill, military liaison for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, said the depot should not have been furloughed.
"In my opinion, furloughs are not necessary at the depot because of the work scheduled there and the funding that is in place," Hill said. "Regardless of the budget cuts, they have requirements and funding and have got to execute their mission."
However, Hill was not confident that the House legislation will be successful, due to the current political climate.
"In my opinion, it's probably highly unlikely the bill will be passed by Oct. 1," Hill said.