June 23, 2018
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Possible Defense Department cuts could affect nearly 7,000 Maine workers

By Whit Richardson, BDN Staff

Absent a decision by Congress to avoid the across-the-board budget cuts that could go into effect next week, roughly 6,800 workers in Maine who are civilian employees of the Department of Defense could be placed on unpaid leave.

The Department of Defense on Wednesday notified Congress that if the congressionally mandated cuts, also known as sequestration, are allowed to happen, the Pentagon would have to place its 800,000 civilian employees on administrative furlough.

The U.S. Navy, which is part of the Defense Department, employs the most civilian workers in Maine. The Navy employs 5,500 in the state, according to Lt. J.G. Caroline Hutcheson, a Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon.

Hutcheson said approximately 5,200 of those employees would be eligible for administrative furlough.

The majority of those Navy employees work at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, which has 4,700 civilian employees, according to Danna Eddy, the shipyard’s deputy public affairs officer.

Bath Iron Works is a private shipbuilder, so its employees aren’t affected by these potential furloughs (though sequestration could, in other ways, negatively affect hundreds of BIW workers, Jeffrey Geiger, BIW’s president, said at a press event Wednesday morning).

But the Navy does have an office in Bath, called its Supervisor of Shipbuilding, which employs 177 civilians who manage the design and construction of the destroyers at BIW, according to Kristin Mason, a spokeswoman for the local Navy office. Those 177 employees would be affected by a furlough, she said.

The U.S. Army employs 621 civilian employees in Maine, according to Troy Rolan, an Army spokesman. Rolan did not know how many of those employees would be eligible for furlough.

The Maine Army and Air National Guard also include 533 technicians who are civilian employees of the Defense Department, which perform “many of the day-to-day operations that keep the National Guard moving,” according to Peter Rogers, spokesman for the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management.

Rogers said the furloughs would be “devastating” for the Maine National Guard.

“If in fact this does go through and we do need to furlough the employees, it will definitely have a negative effect on military readiness in Maine and certainly nationwide,” he said.

Furloughs would also hurt the local economy.

“If we have that many employees on furlough, it will affect every community in Maine,” Rogers said. “We’re looking at 20 percent cut in pay and many days of lost time for these individuals.”

The Defense Department also employs roughly 600 civilians in Aroostook County at its Defense Finance and Accounting Service office in Limestone, according to Tom LaRock, a DFAS spokesman. They all would be eligible for furlough, LaRock said.

It’s still unclear how many of the Defense Department’s 6,800 civilian employees in Maine are eligible for administrative furlough, according to Leslie Hullryde, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department.

“We won’t know how many and who will be furloughed, if it even happens … until services submit a proposal” for how they would absorb the cuts, Hullryde told the Bangor Daily News.

“It’s a process, and the timeline started yesterday,” she said.

By law, the Defense Department is required to notify Congress 45 days before furloughing the first person, Hullryde said.

“We’ve told the entire workforce,” she said. “We don’t know who those people will be specifically. We’re just giving them a heads-up that, sadly, we’ll have to consider this option.”

Assuming the sequestration cuts occur, the furloughs won’t actually take place until late April.

The Defense Department in mid-March will notify employees who will be furloughed, according to statements made by Robert Hale, undersecretary of defense, at a media briefing Wednesday.

Once the employees are notified, there’s a 30-day waiting period before the department can take any action, Hale said. In late April, those employees will receive a final decision on their furlough. They will then have one week to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, he said.

“The bottom line is, furloughs would not actually start for DOD employees until late April, and we certainly hope that … in the interim Congress will act to de-trigger sequestration or, if they can’t accomplish that goal by March 1, as the president suggested, to take some short-term action while they’re dealing with the broader issue,” Hale said. “Meanwhile, unfortunately, we’ll have to continue our planning for furloughs.”

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