During a staff meeting with his directors Wednesday at U.S. Army Garrison Headquarters, Col. Kevin Gregory, garrison commander for Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, expressed his relief as he talked about the reduced number of furlough days now required for Department of Defense civilian employees.
“I want to thank you for your service and your professionalism,” Gregory said. “I want to thank you all for putting soldiers and their families first. From Maj. Gen. (Mike) Murray on down, thank you.”
Before talking to his directors, Gregory spoke with news media about the Aug. 6 news release from Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that announced the number of furlough days had been reduced from 11 to six. He said savings were found mostly at the DoD level to meet sequestration cuts to the DoD’s fiscal year 2013 budget.
“Yesterday, we were notified that Secretary (Chuck) Hagel, the secretary of defense, had cut the number of furlough days from 11 down to six,” Gregory said. “We began notifying our civilian employees, which did not take long as news spreads quickly.”
Gregory said most of Stewart-Hunter’s DoD employees will have met the six furlough days requirement by the Aug. 17. The installation then will go back on normal operating hours starting Aug. 19, he said. Services like the post library and commissary will return to a normal schedule. The commissary has been closed two days a week since July 8.
He said Army and DoD leaders together looked for ways to make the required sequestration cuts and save enough money to curtail the number of required furlough days. He said Fort Stewart saved money through recycling and common-sense energy cuts, such as turning off lights when nobody is in a room. Those savings filtered their way back into the system, he said.
Gregory explained that Stewart’s DoD Education Activity schools were supposed to begin their furlough days Aug. 27 by closing the schools every Friday through the end of September. He said DoDEA employees still will have to meet the required six furlough days by Sept. 30, but the schools will not be closed one day each week.
“This year, fiscal year 2013, we started the year under a continuing (budget) resolution,” Gregory said. “The cuts for sequestration were deferred until April. After that, we saw a 30 percent cut in our budget. The Army had to save about $18 billion through the end of the fiscal year. The furloughs were only about $2 billion of that.”
He said DoD leaders don’t know about fiscal year 2014 because the government still does not have a budget. He said he expected to hear from his higher headquarters, Installation Management Command, in September about budget guidance for FY14.
Gregory concluded his news conference by saying he and other Army leaders were not surprised by the news that furlough days were being reduced. They believed DoD leaders would find the necessary cuts to prevent prolonged furloughs. He said, however, that he and other Army leaders, as well as all civilian employees, were relieved by the reduced furlough days.
Garrison Executive Officer Travis Mobley agreed with Gregory’s assessment that relief was the best word to describe how most civilian employees feel about the fewer furlough days.
“I think the workforce will be very pleased with the news we’ve received from the secretary of the defense,” Mobley said. “It’s been a challenge across the board for all our civilians, as well as the soldiers we support.”
He said all employees would lose pay for six days, which, for some, was a significant hardship. He said these employees, whom he described as “living from paycheck to paycheck,” were the ones he was most concerned about. When asked by the news media if Stewart’s civilian employees now are optimistic they’ll not have to take any furlough days during the next fiscal year, Mobley was pragmatic.
“We have to be realistic,” he said. “We have to expect we will see (budget) cuts in the future and go ahead and start planning for it now.”