Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Thousands of civilian employees in Colorado Springs could be impacted by government shutdown

By Tom Roeder Published: October 4, 2013 0

Without a budget deal, thousands of civilian Defense Department employees in the Pikes Peak region - including instructors at the Air Force Academy - face furlough starting Tuesday, but an 11th-hour agreement blunted even deeper military impacts of government shutdown.

Congress on Monday passed a bill written by Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman that exempted military pay and money for mission-essential civilians from the shutdown. President Barack Obama was expected to sign the measure. That still left more than half of Defense Department workers off the job in a shutdown.

At the Air Force Academy, 330 civilian instructors, technicians and faculty support staff were expected to be furloughed in a shutdown. The academy was hoping to continue courses by leaning on airmen instructors.

"What the dean is looking at doing is doubling up some classes," said Air Force Academy spokesman Dave Cannon, who planned on being furloughed Tuesday.

While classes may continue, Air Force Academy games may not. A Pentagon ban on travel could scuttle Air Force's Saturday football game at Navy.

Cannon said top leaders were in talks about the game.

The academy had more than 1,400 workers subject to furlough.

"We expect more than 1,000 of those to come into work Tuesday and be issued a furlough notice in the first four hours of the duty day if the government is shut down," Cannon said.

Schriever Air Force Base expected a "majority" of its 692 civilian workers subject to furlough to be sent home Tuesday.

"The absence of appropriations will be extremely disruptive to the Air Force," the base said in a news release. "Functions essential to national security and public safety will continue."

Fort Carson expected to furlough most of its more than 3,500 civilian employees.

"In the event of a shutdown, the installation would have to reduce staffing and operations to minimal levels," Fort Carson said in a news release Monday evening. "However, we would continue to support key military operations, provide for the safety of human life and protect property."

At Peterson Air Force Base, more than 3,400 civilian workers were subject to furlough.

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Wesley Clark said government shutdowns were fairly frequent during his three decades in uniform.

Like the 2013 version of the shutdown, government budget standoffs in from the 1970s through the 1990s exempted troops and essential civilians.

Clark has been talking to friends still in uniform around the Pikes Peak region.

"They don't seem overly concerned with shutdown," he said.

Earlier government shutdowns have been brief - none lasting more than a month and most just a few days.

More troubling, Clark said, is that Congress hasn't addresses automatic "sequestration" spending cuts that took hold in 2013 and will cut $500 billion over 10 years unless Congress changes them.

"There were already enough grumblings taking place," he said. Military contractors will feel little immediate impact from the shutdown. The Pentagon said Monday that contracts that are fully funded will be paid as usual.

One shutdown impact: A huge sale at commissaries. The Defense Commissary Agency announced that their U.S. stores, including those at Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base and the Air Force Academy, would open Tuesday to get rid of perishable goods in the event of a shutdown. After that, commissaries were expected to close in the United States, but remain open overseas.

The Pikes Peak region economic impact of a shutdown may be hard to gauge, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs economist Fred Crowley said.

"People don't change their spending patterns unless they think the changes are permanent," he said.

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