FORT DRUM, N.Y. — On the first day of a Department of Defense-wide civilian worker furlough period, the installation’s garrison commander spoke out on how the unpaid days off would affect the post.
“It’s going to impact the soldiers, it’s going to impact family members and it’s going to impact my civilians,” Col. Gary A. Rosenberg said. “I would tell you that it impacts my civilian employees harder than it impacts the soldiers and the family members. For us, it’s an inconvenience. For them, it’s 20 percent of their pay.”
The furloughs are a result of defense budget cuts brought on by the congressionally approved sequester, which went into effect in March. About 680,000 civilian defense workers nationwide will have 11 furlough days from now to Sept. 30, reducing costs by an estimated $1.8 billion.
Locally, about 1,800 workers will face the furloughs, with many of the unpaid days scheduled for Fridays.
Col. Rosenberg spoke to media about the furloughs Monday afternoon at the post’s media operations building off Route 26.
The congressional mandate gives agencies some leeway in distributing the cuts. The Defense Department initially had planned on 22 days of furloughs starting earlier this year, but a congressional spending bill passed in March allowed for some budget flexibility to reduce the number of unpaid days.
Asked about claims from the post’s employee union leadership that costs could have been reduced with methods other than furloughs, Col. Rosenberg said he had faith in the chain of command’s analysis that the furloughs were necessary.
Several services will have reduced hours as a result. The post’s commissary, already closed Mondays, will also be closed Tuesdays during the furlough period.
A limited number of employees in areas such as the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program are exempt from the furloughs, along with nonappropriated fund employees in fields such as child care. In situations regarding deployments or emergencies threatening safety, Col. Rosenberg has the ability to authorize select staff for limited hours of work.
In one example of the effects of furloughs, the planned return flight of soldiers from Afghanistan had to be changed from its initial arrival Friday, when many workers will be on furlough. Though the flight was switched to an earlier day, Col. Rosenberg said it could have been delayed.
“The fact remains there are certain things we can’t do,” he said.
As the furloughs start, Col. Rosenberg praised the work ethic of the post’s civilian employees and their emphasis on helping soldiers and families.
“Even when they’re facing hardship themselves personally, they’re still worried about the mission,” he said.