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Spending cuts would idle 170 at Air Guard

22-day furlough rests on Congress

Panetta

– The Air National Guard would furlough 170 full-time personnel at its Fort Wayne base for 22 days if automatic federal spending cuts take effect March 1.

They would be among nearly 1,000 members of the Indiana National Guard who would lose one day’s work – and pay – each week for 22 weeks starting in late April. Together they would give up at least $7 million in wages.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Wednesday that 800,000 civilian employees might be furloughed in the event of sequestration – the government’s term for $1.2 trillion in federal spending reductions over 10 years that was ordered by Congress in 2011. Under the legislation, the Pentagon must shave $46 billion from its budget during the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Panetta issued a memo to department employees in which he said the cuts “will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force.” The Pentagon budget for this year is $633 billion.

Unless Congress postpones the reductions – as it did Jan. 1 – or comes up with another plan, the Pentagon will give affected personnel 30 days’ notice of their furloughs. And Congress requires 45 days’ notice before furloughs can occur.

“It’s not like we’ll go home one day and the next day we get a phone call saying, ‘Don’t come back,’ ” said Master Sgt. Darin Hubble, public affairs superintendent at the Air National Guard base in Fort Wayne.

Hubble said the 170 local furloughs would affect more than half of the full-time personnel at the 122nd Fighter Wing.

Lt. Col. Cathy Van Bree, public affairs officer for the Indiana National Guard, said the proposed cutbacks for the state involve a wide range of jobs filled by civilian personnel who are classified as military technicians. They include 676 members of the Army Guard and 310 members of the Air Guard.

Furlough schedules have not been determined, Van Bree said.

“We expect to have to internally manage that so everybody’s not off on the same day,” Van Bree said.

The Army Guard has more than 60 installations in the state, including in Fort Wayne. Bree did not have a breakdown of furloughs by facility.

In addition to its 122nd Fighter Wing in Fort Wayne, the Air Guard operates a base in Terre Haute.

Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that equipment and facility maintenance would be a casualty of spending cuts.

“We do expect to have some reduction in the funding of the repair parts for both ground and aviation maintenance,” Van Bree said. “Some of that maintenance will be deferred, for sure.”

Also, “if the employees are on furlough, that’s less opportunity for them to work on vehicles,” she said.

Congress is not in session this week and won’t return to work until Monday, just a few days before the spending cuts are scheduled to begin.

“I love being in Indiana, but I should be back in Washington right now working on the problem,” Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said Wednesday in a phone interview. “It makes no sense to me.”

Donnelly, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said Congress “is close to a possible replacement for the sequester.” A plan that he said “seems fair” would, among other things, increase revenue by eliminating an income tax loophole known as carried interest. In essence, the loophole allows executives at private equity firms and hedge funds to pay a much lower tax rate because their income is treated as capital gains.

“I think we all agree that the overall deficit has to be reduced by the $1.2 trillion amount. The question is what the mix will be,” Donnelly said about his colleagues on Capitol Hill.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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