Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Fort Carson worried cuts could harm readiness

Staff reports Updated: February 22, 2013 at 12:00 am

A week ahead of sweeping automatic budget cuts, a Fort Carson spokesman decried the possibility that 3,000 of the post’s civilian employees could be placed on furlough — deeming the cutbacks a threat to troop readiness.

“We are deeply concerned because without them (civilians), we can’t accomplish our mission,” said Lt. Col. Armando Hernandez, a post spokesman. “They’ve been instrumental to our success. We’ve been at war for 10 years, and they’ve been an integral part.”

The furloughs are part of a larger plan to cut $46 billion in defense spending this year — a scenario set in motion by a fiscal deal struck in 2011 that was meant to spur Congress into action over the nation’s debt.

The cuts were originally to take effect in January, but a congressional deal delayed those cuts — often referred to as “sequestration” — until March 1.

Hernandez’s comments came as the Colorado economy stands to lose more than $48 million in wages to Air Force civilians over the next few months if the furloughs are issued at Colorado’s Air Force bases, said Andrew Merritt, chief defense industry officer for the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

El Paso County — home to five of the state’s six major military installations — would shoulder at least $37 million of those lost Air Force wages, Merritt said.

No estimate of lost wages was immediately available for Army employees.

“That kind of level of lost wages is going to affect every kind of business here in the community,” Merritt said. “Most peoples’ budgets just can’t absorb that without having to cut back activities dramatically.”

The Army and Air Force furloughs would not start until late April because of the required notice to employees, Pentagon officials said. The maximum number of furlough days for any one employee would be 22, and they would be spread out until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, the Pentagon said.

About 300 civilian instructors at the Air Force Academy could face furloughs, but academy spokesman Lt. Col. John Bryan said schedules would be adjusted so cadet class time isn’t affected. The academic year would be nearly over when the furloughs began.

“We see very little impact to cadets,” Bryan said.

The cuts would not affect head coaches of five intercollegiate sports teams — football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s hockey and women’s volleyball — because they are on contract, he said. About 50 other coaches and assistant coaches could be furloughed, however.

The only way those cuts could be avoided: congressional action.

A week from that deadline, Merritt struck a pessimistic tone.

“I don’t know of anybody anymore who really believes they’re going to avoid the March 1 deadline,” Merritt said.

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