Hill AFB officials worried about impeding budget caps

Thursday , November 30, 2017 - 12:00 AM

MITCH SHAW, Standard-Examiner Staff

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Hill Air Force Base brass are worried that looming budget spending caps will impact the installation’s ability to perform its mission.

Earlier this month, Congress passed a nearly $696 billion defense spending authorization bill — a more than $50 billion increase to the budget proposed by President Donald Trump in May.

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But spending restraints associated with the 2011 Budget Control Act would cap defense spending at $549 billion — an action Col. Jennifer Hammerstedt, commander of Hill’s 75th Air Base Wing, says would debilitating to the base. 

“The budget uncertainty really limits our ability as an Air Force,” Hammerstedt said. “Whether it’s modernization or sustaining the infrastructure or the weapons systems we have (on base) today.”

If the BCA spending caps aren’t removed, Hammerstedt said urgent infrastructure projects on base would be delayed. There are approximately $40 million worth of construction and repair projects lying in wait at Hill.

Hammerstedt said those projects include runway restoration, control tower upgrades, roofing and HVAC improvements at base lodging facilities and several others.

Brig. Gen. Stacey Hawkins, commander of Hill’s Ogden Air Logistics Complex, said the spending caps would have major impacts to the complex’s workforce, causing hiring freezes, overtime restrictions or furloughs.

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The ALC employs more than 8,800, providing logistics, support, maintenance and distribution for Air Force weapons systems like the F-35 Lightning II, F-22 Raptor, F-16 Fighting Falcon, A-10 Thunderbolt and the Minuteman III ICBM.

While Hill performs maintenance on all Air Force F-35s, the base also flies the agency’s first operational fleet of the fighter jets. Hill receives regular shipments of the jet until 2019, when 78 planes will fill three operational fighter squadrons.

Hawkins said BCA caps would “indirectly impact” Hill’s operational F-35 fleet by delaying maintenance on the jet.

Since Oct. 1, the beginning of the defense department’s fiscal year, a continuing resolution that bypasses the BCA caps and instead keeps caps at last year’s levels, has been in place. That resolution is set to expire on Dec. 8.

To avoid a government shutdown by that date, Congress has to pass an appropriations bill funding the defense department at requested levels, or extend the continuing resolution. 

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Hill faced a partial shutdown in 2013 when approximately 11,000 civilians were furloughed one day per pay period from June through October. Base spokesman Micah Garbarino said nearly 2,700 employees were out of work from Oct. 1-7, accounting for more than $34 million in lost wages.

During the shutdown, flying operations were interrupted, hiring freezes were instituted, death gratuity payments for deceased airmen were delayed, along with education and training sessions. The base also cut back on medical appointments and closed youth centers, Garbarino said.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/MitchShaw.StandardExaminer.

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