WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Members of Utah's Congressional Delegation had a special meeting with the U.S. Air Force chief of staff earlier this week, pressing him about issues that could have major impacts at Hill Air Force Base.
Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee and Republican Congressmen Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart all met with Gen. Mark Welsh on Tuesday to discuss a number of issues important to Utah and Hill, most notably the impending Department of Defense sequestration and the delayed delivery of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
U.S. civilian DoD workers are scheduled to be furloughed for 11 days starting July 8 at the rate of two days per pay period through the end of September.
The DoD is expected to lose $37 billion of its 2013 budget because of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, but will gain back $1.8 billion through the furloughs.
The delegation members all maintain that sequestration and the accompanying furloughs will have devastating effects on national security.
Bishop said Welsh assured the delegation that the Air Force is doing everything it can to deal with the sequester in a responsible way, although no specific details were offered.
"(He) agreed that the planned furloughs will be disruptive and costly to our civilian workforce," Bishop said. "He pledged to continue to work with the delegation and Pentagon leadership on trying to find ways to mitigate those impacts as much as possible."
The number of furlough days began at 22, but dropped to 14 in April and was down to 11 in early May.
Also at the meeting, Hatch told Welsh he's particularly concerned about continued delays in the delivery of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Hill.
Hill is listed as the Air Force's preferred alternative for the location of the first two operational squadrons of the advanced F-35 stealth fighter. The base was scheduled to activate the squadrons some time this year, but the F-35 program is behind schedule and already faced several delays.
"We're now in the third delay of the delivery of the F-35," Hatch said. "This has been studied, it's been discussed, and it's high time to move forward with the delivery of the jet."
The latest word from the Air Force is that the F-35s are scheduled to go into service sometime in 2015.
Following the meeting with Welsh, Bishop, Stewart and Lee met with Air Combat Commander Gen. Mike Hostage.
Bishop said Hostage reaffirmed the importance of Hill and its Utah Test and Training Range, saying it is essential in strengthening the nation's defense capabilities.