CHARLESTON, W. Va. — Nearly 1,700 West Virginians working in agencies under the U.S. Department of Defense umbrella stand to lose about $5.6 million in income this summer as part of an 11-week furlough program.
West Virginia Air and Army National Guard technicians — including more than 200 stationed in Charleston — account for more than half of the state residents affected by the furloughs.
With 946 of the Guard's nearly 2,500-member state workforce experiencing furloughs in the coming months, National Guard Adj. Gen. James Hoyer said the cuts could have a significant impact on morale and operations.
"It is one of the most frustrating things I have dealt with in my 32 years in the National Guard," Hoyer said.
The cuts are a result of the $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts forced by the so-called sequester.
To deal with a $20 billion cut to its operations and maintenance budget, the U.S. Department of Defense will begin furloughs for 652,000 of its 893,000 civilian employees on July 8.
The employees will be furloughed for a total of 11 days each between July and September, averaging about one day per week for most of those affected.
Employees working in combat areas, medical facilities or other essential operations are exempt.
According to reports prepared by individual military branches, the program will affect 1,692 West Virginia workers: 1,005 employed by the U.S. Army; 578 by the Air Force; 26 by the Navy; and 83 by other Defense Department entities.
Affected employees will lose nearly $5.6 million in salary through the furloughs.
The West Virginia National Guard will have to furlough 946 technicians over the coming months.
That includes 186 workers with the 130th Airlift Wing in Charleston; 384 with the 67th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg; and 376 Army National Guard members working at locations across the state.
The technicians are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of Guard equipment and vehicles.
Hoyer said technicians will be furloughed because of the way they are classified.
The Defense Department exempted uniformed officers and Guard members classified as "Active Guard and Reserve."
The Guard technicians are not classified as "Active Guard and Reserve," but rather "Dual-Status Technicians."
The law considers these workers to be civilian employees who must serve as a member of the National Guard as a condition of employment.
Hoyer said the technicians were a critical part of the Guard's ability to function and should have been exempted.
"These are men and women who represent that less than 1 percent of the population of the United States who are willing to wear a military uniform," Hoyer said. "And our way of repaying them is laying them off for 11 days . . . that's a sad commentary on where we are right now."
Having more than a third of the workforce furloughed one day each week could affect the Guard's ability to respond if called to assist in a natural disaster.
"It's clearly going to have an impact on our readiness," Hoyer said.
Last week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used the looming furloughs to blame Republicans in the House of Representatives for compromising the nation's military.
"House Republicans could have stopped the sequester by closing tax breaks for millionaires and corporate special interests, but they refused to compromise — and now the defense workers of West Virginia are facing a cut in their pay," the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a statement released last week.
Earlier this year, President Barack Obama and GOP leaders were unable to compromise on a solution to avert the sequester.
Obama wanted Republicans to approve a plan that would have cut spending while also raising revenue by closing tax loopholes and subsidies and raising taxes on wealthy individuals.
Republicans in the House of Representatives approved two alternatives that dealt with spending but did not raise additional revenue.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., criticized the DCCC for using the furloughs for political purposes.
"It's sad that Washington Democrats are playing politics with West Virginia jobs," spokeswoman Lisa Boothe said.
Boothe said Capito "is very concerned about the families who will be affected by the sequester" and said that was why she supported House GOP attempts to avert it.
"Unfortunately, the president and Senate Democrats refused to act," Boothe said.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Congress should have taken a balanced approach, like the one offered by the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction commission, to avert the sequester.
"It is discouraging and shameful that Congress cannot work in a bipartisan manner to reach a long-term compromise to get our fiscal house in order," Manchin said in a statement.
A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Manchin called the sequester cuts "draconian."
"We cannot sacrifice our national security because Congress cannot work toward solving our nation's financial problems," he said.
The West Virginia National Guard is working with Workforce West Virginia to assist affected employees.
"We're looking at every opportunity we have to try to assist these people because this is a large chunk of their pay," Hoyer said.
He hopes the situation causes leaders in Washington to take a hard look at the country's budget priorities and make longer-term plans to make sure it does not happen again.
"People are going to suffer — people who go the extra mile to defend this country are going to suffer," Hoyer said.
"It's just not a good way to do business."