Top brass in Hawaii unsettled by slashes in funding
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU — The Army, Navy, Marines, Hawaii National Guard and business leaders laid out for state lawmakers Wednesday the harmful effects sequestration and other budget cuts could have on a U.S. military that pumped $14.7 billion into the local economy in 2011 and accounted for more than 102,000 jobs.
Charlie Ota, vice president for military affairs with the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, noted that on a per-capita basis, Hawaii is expected to be the state most severely affected by cuts in defense spending.
Maj. Gen. Darryll Wong, the state adjutant general, said up to 1,163 Hawaii National Guard technicians could be furloughed for 22 days starting April 26.
In a worst-case scenario, all the planned furloughs, cuts and layoffs would translate into $24 million in lost pay for the rest of the fiscal year, Wong said.
About 660 Marine Corps civilian workers could be furloughed as a result of the enacted sequestration, resulting in $4.37 million in lost pay, said Marine Col. David Tagg.
Under the current continuing resolution and with sequestration, Pearl Harbor shipyard funding could be reduced by about $32 million this year, plus an additional $28 million with furloughs, said Rear Adm. Hugh Wetherald, the Pacific Fleet's deputy chief of staff for plans, policies and requirements.
Wetherald said equating sequestration to a "fiscal cliff" set the unrealistic expectation that military commands would announce the effects on March 1 when the budget cuts went into effect.
Under sequestration, defense and domestic programs will each lose $500 billion over 10 years.
"In fact, instead of an analogy of falling off a cliff, it is more realistic to view sequestration as rolling down a long steep and bumpy hill, painfully hitting rocks along the way," Wetherald told lawmakers.
The testimony was provided at a meeting of the House Committee on Veterans, Military and International Affairs and Culture and the Arts; and the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs.
U.S. Pacific Command, Pacific Air Forces and the Coast Guard did not send representatives.
"I think from our standpoint, it's important to know what the possible consequences are, (including) the potential furloughs and layoffs," said state Rep. K. Mark Takai, chairman of the House committee. "Knowing that, it will help us in the Legislature as well as the state address some (sequestration) issues that we can address."
Alan Hayashi, a spokesman for defense contractor BAE Systems, said the state unemployment fund should be looked at "because I think there will be definite impacts."
Some of the defense budget cuts are due to a lack of an appropriations bill. The Defense Department has been running on lower 2012 funding, which led to a shortfall in operations and maintenance accounts.
Wetherald said if Congress "acts in the next couple of weeks to provide us a robust appropriations bill, we will be in a better position to manage sequestration impacts with respect to Pacific Fleet operations."
The U.S. House approved HR 933 Wednesday, which includes full-year defense, military construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bills. The legislation provides $173.5 billion for operations and maintenance — $1.4 billion below the request and $10.4 billion above enacted levels of the current continuing resolution.
Among the actions planned by the Navy due to the continuing shortfall was the cancellation of $35 million in Pearl Harbor shipyard repairs on the destroyer USS Chafee by BAE Systems.
The Chamber's Ota said the Pentagon announced that budget cuts would fall largely on civilian pay, base operations and training and reductions in defense contracts.
The Army previously released a report showing a potential $287 million economic loss in Hawaii with the budget uncertainty, including 22 days of furlough affecting 7,032 civilian workers.
Maj. Gen. Roger Mathews, a deputy commander with U.S. Army Pacific at Fort Shafter, said, "No doubt about it, the remainder of this (fiscal year) is going to be challenging."
But that won't affect the Army's "rebalance" to the Pacific, he said.
"You will not see a force posture change," Mathews said.
The Army also is dropping from 570,000 to 490,000 soldiers total, but the "impacts to Hawaii will be minimal," he said.