The budget cuts handed down to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base this week include a civilian hiring freeze, the elimination of some temporary positions and the curtailing of certain travel and purchasing costs. Emily McCord speaks to Vice President for federal programs at the Dayton Development Coalition, Michael Gessel, to discuss how these small measures now could signal larger cuts in the future.
Emily McCord: These cuts the Air Force down are things civilians freezes and some temporary being eliminated. Wright-Patt is the major employer in the Miami Valley. What kind of effect does this have in our local economy?
Michael Gessel: At the moment, these cuts are just going to be felt around the margins. Obviously if you are a temporary employee and are let go as a result of this directive, it’s going to have a big effect. But the majority of the 29,000 employees at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base will not be affected by this new order and will continue their jobs as they have done. There will be some effects, conferences for example will be curtailed, and that does have an effect on the Dayton region because we do have a lot of defense related conferences and many members of the defense department will not be able to travel to Dayton to attend those conferences. That’s going to have an effect. It could have an effect on some suppliers who sell things like furniture to the base because the announcement that came out curtails furniture purchases and other purchases that are deemed to be non-essential. If this continues through the summer it could affect the air show because the cuts Air Material Command made also curtails air shows and flyovers and familiarization rides. But by and large, the announcement is not going to have a much an effect at the moment on Wright-Patterson or on the community. This particular announcement is putting everyone on notice of what could happen in the future. But at the moment, we’re ok.
EM: Now, in the future, we’re talking about these automatic spending cuts, these sequestration cuts, that will go into effect unless congress reaches a deal by March. What are you all expecting?
MG: Well, we are hopeful, but like others, we can’t predict what Congress will do. There actually are two crisis’ affecting the defense budget. One is of course sequestration which is the automatic across the board spending cuts. But there’s another problem which has not gotten as much attention but also could impact the budget. That is Congress’ not enacting a year-long defense appropriation measure. Every year, Congress passes an appropriation measure for the federal agencies that covers one year. The fiscal year started October 1st. Congress has not passed any of the appropriations bills. Instead, Congress passed a catchall, stopgap spending measure which continues funding at the same level as the preceding year. In the case of the defense department, that spending level is lower than what was anticipated for fiscal year 2013. So, as long as we’re operating under continuing resolution, we’re actually spending less money than the administration had initially budgeted, that continuing resolution comes due also in March and if that’s not replaced with the traditional fiscal year ‘13 spending bill, then it will cement in place the lower spending levels and that could entail budget cuts as well.
EM: What could this look like for us?
MG: The big concern is furloughs. That is to say, civilian employees would be asked to take time off without pay for several day or cumulatively several weeks throughout the year. That would have a significant effect on those employees that are furloughed, and it would also mean a loss of money to the Dayton region. Now the Defense Department has put us on notice that furloughs could happen if the budget situation is not resolved but the Defense Department has also made it very, very clear in statements from the secretary on down, that furloughs would be a last resort.
EM: With all this uncertainty in the budget here, is there a concern about another BRAC, another Base Realignment and Closure?
MG: There is certainly the possibility of a base closure round. Now, that has to authorized by legislation. The administration can request a BRAC round, as they did last year, and then Congress has to pass it. A base closures round wouldn’t necessarily hurt Wright-Patterson. In fact, there’s always the possibility that we would gain which is what happened in the last round of base closures in 2005. Wright-Patt picked up about 1,100 jobs. So, if there is a round of base closures. We of course have vulnerability and missions could be moved out, but based on precedent, there’s a good chance that we would actually pick up missions. But it’s a gamble. We don’t know what will happen.