Reduced flying hours, higher thermostat settings and elimination of overtime are but a few sweeping changes designed to cut the required millions of dollars from the bases’ operating budgets over the next six months.
One cost-saving measure of particular concern is impending unpaid leave for the thousands of civilians the military employs in the area.
Notices of furloughs should be handed out next week and could result in a 20 percent cut to the employees’ paychecks over the next six months.
Brig. Gen. David Harris, commander of the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, held a series of meetings with about 2,000 civilian employees Tuesday to discuss the cuts.
“A 20 percent reduction in income is not something that people can absorb. Even careful people cannot absorb that,” he said between the meetings. “I wanted to look them in the eye and let them know how valuable they are to us, how much I feel their loss and how much I want to mitigate and soften that blow.”
The Department of Defense is required to cut $41 billion, with a potential additional $6 billion, by the end of the fiscal year in a process dubbed sequestration. That would amount to about 9 percent of its overall budget, according to the Pentagon.
The cost savings from the civilian furloughs will account for about one-ninth of the total cuts, Harris said.
Eglin has about 3,700 employees, which make up roughly half the base’s federal workforce.
Another 1,400 civilians are employed at Hurlburt Field.
The furlough will require employees to take up to 22 days of unpaid leave before Sept. 21, the last day of the last full pay period in the fiscal year.
The first furlough day will be no sooner than April 21.
After the notices are handed out next week, employees will have a couple weeks to make requests to their supervisors regarding how the leave should be implemented, in accordance with an agreement with civilian employee unions that was hammered out last week.
Ultimately, it will fall to the employee’s supervisor to determine how best to implement the days of unpaid leave in order to balance the needs of the mission with those of the employee, Harris said.
The agreement states that employees can request to take the leave stretched over the six months, in consecutive days, or in two sets of 11 days. Management must approve their requests.
Rocky Tasse, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1942, said the agreement was negotiated so employees can request to take the leave in the way that best suits their needs because each person’s hardship is going to be different.
For example, some workers may want to take a few days at a time and work a part-time job. Others may want to take the entire leave at once in order to take a temporary position with another employer or to qualify for unemployment.
“We negotiated in good faith with the understanding that the supervisor and management would work with the employee on a case-by-case basis,” Tassesaid.“I want management to be flexible and compassionate.”
He has some reservations that supervisors may not take employees’ considerations into account, but said that Harris’ meetings Tuesday made him hopeful that the base plans to work with employees to try to reduce the negative impact.
Aside from the furloughs, the 96th Test Wing, which oversees operations at Eglin, will have to cut $30 million, or about 20 percent of its budget, by the end of September, Harris said.
It already has started reducing flying hours, which is the most expensive operation at the base. In addition, people working in units that test equipment are restricted from working overtime, which could increase the turnaround time to complete some testing but will cut costs.
The 96th Test Wing has cut down on the number of vehicles being used, and thermostats have been set higher to try save on utilities.
The 96th covers utility bills for all local installations, including Hurlburt. Harris said each installation’s commander has been very cooperative in trying to cut electricity costs.
“It’s going to be a long, hot summer,” he said.
The 1st Special Operations Wing, which oversees operations at Hurlburt, was unable to release numbers Tuesday regarding how much will have to be cut from its budget this fiscal year, according to the base’s public affairs office.
But 1st SOW commander Col. Jim Slife said the base is preparing for the furloughs and cuts to certain programs.
“Although certain projects and programs might be cut, (we) will continue to carry out our missions to the best of our ability, even though we will not be able to function at the same level of performance and readiness with a furloughed civilian workforce,” he said in a written statement. “Now, more than ever, we must remain a family and support each other during these hard times.”
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Lauren Sage Reinlie at 850-315-4443 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRnwfdn.