Overseas services might slow, but most won’t stop if gov't shuts down
By JOHN VANDIVER, MATT MILLHAM AND ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 30, 2013
While most services at overseas military bases would continue operating during a federal government shutdown, potential civilian furloughs could slow down or shutter some functions, including reducing American Forces Network television programming.
A government shutdown means overseas troops could miss baseball playoff games and favorite NFL Sunday showdowns, as well as some popular TV shows, as cutbacks will force AFN to reduce its programming to just one channel: news.
Base exchanges, all overseas commissaries, medical facilities, day care and schools all will remain open if Congress cannot pass an appropriations bill before Tuesday, military officials at several bases told Stars and Stripes. Stateside commissaries, including those in Hawaii and Alaska, will stay open Tuesday to sell off perishable items before closing, according to a Defense Commissary Agency statement.
However, some key quality-of-life services will be hard hit.
If a shutdown occurs, personnel at AFN’s broadcast center will face mandatory reductions. AFN’s radio services in Europe will continue to broadcast, however, with military personnel standing in for furloughed civilians.
The network’s radio-by-satellite feeds, which can be tuned in using an AFN decoder, will also continue to broadcast, with some modifications. With no sports channel, some football games would instead be carried live on “The Voice,” the network’s news, talk and information radio station.
Most overseas bases are bracing for administrative slowdowns as departments with General Schedule civilian employees figure out how to operate with fewer workers.
Only operations in South Korea appear to be unaffected.
“USFK is hopeful that a government shutdown will be averted,” a U.S. Forces Korea official said in an email. “We are prepared for the possibility of a shutdown and have taken measures to ensure that on 1 October 2013, all USFK and Component personnel will still report for duty and continue the USFK mission. The Deputy Secretary of Defense has identified all USFK Activities as excepted.”
Officials cautioned that the situation could change drastically by Tuesday. Congress could pass an appropriations bill; it could pass a bill exempting additional workers from a shutdown; or the current standoff could drag on.
For bases outside of South Korea, essential and non-essential workers alike are expected to report to work on schedule Tuesday.
“Because a budget decision may not be made until the last moment, everyone should go to work tomorrow as usual,” U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell told his staff in a Monday Facebook posting.
At that time, exempt and non-exempt employees will be informed whether to continue working or go home, Campbell said.
“If it comes to that, we expect to have four hours tomorrow to do an ‘orderly shutdown’,” Campbell wrote.
Other services will be taking similar action.
On Monday, USAREUR was still calculating how many of its employees would be affected by the furlough. In the case of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-U.S. Air Forces Africa, roughly 1,400 of its 1,726 employees are expected to be furloughed in the event of a shutdown.
Navy-wide, as much as 60 percent of the Navy’s 200,000 civilians could be furloughed during a shutdown, according to Doug Lundburg, who heads the service’s civilian human resources office. Some of those positions may also be exempted if they provide direct support to functions that continue during the shutdown, Lundburg wrote on the Navy’s official blog.
Officials at naval installations in the Europe region, which extends from Rota, Spain, to East Africa, were still awaiting guidance from the Navy’s shore command in Washington as to how many and which employees would be affected, a region spokesman said Monday.
At U.S. Africa Command headquarters in Stuttgart, officials were devising ways to minimize the effect of a shutdown, but could not offer specifics on where it would be scaling back.
“We are reviewing our command priorities and preparing to modify or cancel activities in a way that will minimize adverse effects on our national security mission,” said AFRICOM spokesman Benjamin Benson in a statement.
In Naples, Italy, a spokeswoman for the Navy’s command overseeing Europe and Africa said officials have planned for a shutdown but will wait until Tuesday morning to inform employees of its full impact.
“Everyone will be required to come into work tomorrow, and we’ll go from there,” Capt. Brenda Malone, a spokeswoman for the command said.
At the U.S. Army post in Vicenza, Italy, two-thirds of Army civilian workers were to be furloughed: 94 people at the garrison and six at Camp Darby. A postal worker on Monday afternoon said she’d be among those, and that although she was still hoping it wouldn’t happen, she was afraid that it would. “I try not to think about it,” she said.
The Europe Regional Medical Command would furlough of about 38 percent of ERMC staff, and of about 25 percent of the staff at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
“The short-term impact of a potential government shutdown to Healthcare services throughout Europe Regional Medical Command should be minimal,” an ERMC statement said. But if the shutdown lasts for a week or longer, “the absence of such a large portion of our Army Civilians could have an impact on access to care and the level of non-critical services we are able to provide.”
Offices staffed entirely by civilian workers not exempted from the shutdown — in particular, family service and higher education centers at some bases — are expected to be shuttered.
“For most other services that are largely dependent on the Department of the Army Civilian Workforce, community members can expect service degradation that ranges from minimal to severe to even nonexistent,” according to a statement from Camp Zama in Japan. “Examples of these include Equal Employment Opportunity Services, continuing education and religious education.”
The higher education center at Yokota Air Base also faces potential closure, as does the Airmen and Family Readiness Center, spokesman Capt. Raymond Geoffroy said Monday.
“The Embassy Liaison Office (Passports) will be completely closed, which includes Green Cards, Report of Birth Abroad Support and a few other things,” said Grant Sattler, a Vicenza garrison spokesman, who himself was to be furloughed.
Most overseas functions with their own revenue sources will remain open, military officials added. That means banks and credit unions, recreation services, golf courses, community clubs and restaurants will stay open. Post offices must also keep operating.
However, some activities with their own revenues still rely on non-essential federal workers for administrative purposes and coordination with base officials.
Stars and Stripes reporters Wyatt Olson, Travis Tritten, Matthew M. Burke, Nancy Montgomery, Jennifer Svan, Adam Mathis and Steven Beardsley contributed to this report.