Hill still faces possible furloughs

Jan 4 2013 - 12:14am

HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- Congress may have avoided the fiscal cliff by passing a last-minute tax deal, but Hill Air Force Base's civilian workforce hasn't escaped the possibility of facing furloughs.

With Tuesday's passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act, lawmakers postponed Department of Defense budget reductions, known as sequestration, until March.

The bill allows for a temporary postponement of the $500 billion in defense cuts during the next decade that were set to start this week. Those automatic cuts were to come on top of another $487 billion in defense reductions already planned for the next 10 years.

The across-the-board cuts would slice into military weapons programs and research funds.

The Pentagon reductions may total as much as $62.3 billion in its 2013 fiscal year, or 12 percent of its base budget, which excludes war funding.

In a statement, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that while Congress prevented the worst possible outcome by delaying the ordeal for two months, the cloud of sequestration still remains.

"Sequestration would have a devastating impact on the Department," Panetta said. "The responsibility now is to eliminate it as a threat by enacting balanced deficit reduction."

Panetta has said if sequestration isn't avoided, and the DoD has to operate under reduced funding levels, dramatic steps that will severely impact civilian personnel will have to be taken.

Furloughs are among the actions that will be considered, Panetta said.

With nearly 20,000 civilian employees, it's unlikely Hill would not be affected if furloughs were instituted.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah said his biggest problem with the taxpayer relief bill was that it didn't adequately address the sequestration.

"(The bill) did nothing on sequestration," he said. "They just kicked it down the road for two months."

Col. Sarah Zabel, commander of Hill's 75th Air Base Wing, said at this point, it's too early to tell exactly what a sequestration would mean for Hill.

"We are taking some preparatory steps here (at Hill)," she said. "But we just don't know what will have to execute in the end."

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