Congressional Reps Decry Defense Furloughs
U.S. Department of Defense furloughs of civilian employees took effect Monday and are scheduled to run through the end of September. In New York, a few thousand of these employees are affected at West Point and elsewhere in the Hudson Valley. Two of the region’s congressional representatives slammed the furloughs as they headed back to Washington to try and balance the budget.
The number of Defense Department civilian employees being furloughed is down from an initial estimate of 750,000. Congresswoman Nita Lowey stood Monday at the New York Army National Guard Installation at Camp Smith in Westchester County.
Lowey, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, says the furloughs affect 48 military technicians at Camp Smith. Nationwide, she says the cuts amount to an economic impact of more than $2 billion.
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point in Orange County has around 2,000 federal employees, 1,300 of whom are represented by the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2367. Nearly all are being furloughed, according to AFGE President Don Hale, though he points to some exemptions that were granted. He says his union is taking a two-pronged approach.
The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board is an independent, quasi-judicial agency in the executive branch that decides matters between federal employees and their employer, the federal government. Hale says his union has never embarked on such a mass appeals process. Second on the priority list, says Hale, is to halt furloughs and, more broadly, sequester cuts.
Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney says the average salary lost in wages for West Point employees is more than $4,000 per person, which amounts to an 18 percent pay cut for the duration of the furloughs. At Camp Smith, Lowey says pay cuts average $2,700 per person. Maloney says the furloughs also affect the New York Air National Guard’s 105th Airlift Wing at Stewart Air National Guard Base, in Orange County, hitting about 400 employees. He says some of the worst effects of sequestration have not yet been seen.
AFGE’s Don Hale agrees.
Lowey and Maloney say they are ready to compromise with the Republicans who control the House. Meanwhile, they say the furlough will directly impact local businesses and economies.
Lowey says mechanics, electricians, computer technicians, and weapons technicians will be forced to scale back important upgrades and maintenance to vehicles, weaponry, and computer systems. And this, says Hale, will impact U.S. troops.
Republican Congressman Chris Gibson, who had a 24-year career in the Army, has previously expressed his concern over defense spending cuts, but has different ideas about long-term deficit reduction.