Forced Army budget cuts that could be activated Friday would show up in the South Sound and other military communities in the form of slashed paychecks to furloughed employees and reduced opportunities for private companies to work on bases, senior Army officers said Wednesday at a news conference.
The impact would be “long lasting,” said Brig. Gen. Curt Rauhut, who oversees the Army’s budget for construction, family programs and other installation support services.
He joined two other officers in laying out scenarios they expect if Congress fails to avert the $1.2 trillion budget sequester that’s expected to begin Friday. About $85 billion of that sum would come out of this year’s federal budget.
The Army would lose $12 billion, and $461 million would come out of money that was expected to be spent in the Evergreen State this year, according to a report obtained by The News Tribune.
The pain won’t really begin until April when furloughs of Defense Department civilians would begin. There are 29,000 of them in Washington State, and they stand to lose about $173.4 million in expected pay this year, according to a White House report on probable impacts of the forced cuts.
About 9,500 of them work at Joint Base Lewis-McChord; they would see their pay cut by about $57 million this year.
Meanwhile, Rep. Adam Smith of Bellevue submitted a bill Wednesday that would avoid the sequester and replace its most draconian cuts with a slower and smaller reduction in federal discretionary spending.
Smith, until recently of Tacoma, is the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. His proposal would take $167 billion from the defense budget over time.
That’s less than the $492 billion in forced defense cuts over the next decade that are called for in the sequester, but still far more than Republicans want.
“We have a deficit problem that must be addressed,” Smith said in a news release. “But we should not damage our economy and undermine national security in the process.”
The Army has not released specific details about its plans to handle the forced cuts.
Some options on the table include:
• Cancelling all large-scale training exercises except for units bound for Afghanistan or South Korea. That means soldiers likely would not go on training exercises in groups larger than 40 service members (a platoon).
• Compelling Defense Department civilian employees to take 22 furlough days between April and November, cutting their pay by 20 percent. Some positions could be exempted from the furloughs, such as civilian firefighters on Army posts, but the Pentagon has not announced which jobs might be protected from the unpaid days off.
• Reducing family support services, such as hours at child care programs on Army installations.
• Postponing or eliminating billions of dollars worth of construction and modernization projects. The Defense Department has spent $1.7 billion on construction at Lewis-McChord since 2001, with about $300 million worth of work in each of the past two federal budgets.
• Eliminating service contracts at Army posts and assigning more work to soldiers. This could include maintenance, such as hauling garbage and landscaping.
• Extending deployments in Afghanistan if adequately trained units are not ready to replace them. Lewis-McChord has about 5,000 soldiers deployed to the war zone today.
Maj. Gen. Karen Dyson, the Army budget director, said the full impact of looming cuts will be revealed in the next three months.
“By about Memorial Day you would see a civilian workforce very much impacted,” she said. “By Memorial Day, you will see what kind of summer training has been cancelled.”
She said the cuts would be exacerbated by two other restrictions on spending.
First, the Army is operating under a stopgap budget plan that limits expenses to last year’s levels, leaving the service about $6 billion underfunded.
Second, expenses in Afghanistan are running more than $5 billion over what the Army expected to spend.
The forced cuts technically begin Friday, but most of the Army’s responses to extra spending reductions would not take place for another month. That gives lawmakers time to avoid the cuts.
The Army has instituted a hiring freeze, and it laid off temporary workers to prepare for the coming cuts, leaving the harder choices for later.
“We didn’t want to make decisions we couldn’t reverse,” Dyson said.