Augusta-area civilian employees, defense contractors await sequestration

It is still unclear how sweeping federal spending cuts might affect civilians and defense contractors at Fort Gordon. The first round of the cuts will take place Friday without Congressional action to prevent them.

In the final days before widespread federal spending cuts are set to begin, civilian employees and defense contractors supporting Augusta’s military installation wait anxiously about the future of thousands of jobs and the metro area’s economy.

Predicting how Fort Gordon, the area’s largest employer, will absorb drastic spending reductions known as the sequester amounts to a guessing game, said Thom Tuckey, the executive director of the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon. The first round of the cuts will take place Friday without Congressional action to prevent them.

“It’s hard to tell,” he said. “We’re just not sure what the final impact and final requirements will be.”

Sequestration is the result of an agreement between Congress and President Obama to end an August 2011 budget impasse. Both parties agreed to the Budget Control Act, which allowed for an additional $2.4 trillion in borrowing in exchange for a similar amount of deficit reduction over the next decade. Of that amount, $900 billion was to be achieved through spending caps affecting all government functions outside of entitlement programs. Because a “supercommittee” failed to reach an agreement on determining the balance of the cuts, that triggered automatic $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade coming equally from domestic and defense spending.

Not knowing what share of budget cuts Fort Gordon will be forced to bear complicates budget planning at the installation, Public Affairs Officer J.C. Matthews said.

“At this point, our planning is based on a 30 percent reduction in the funds that are used to operate the installation,” Matthews said. “That has a major effect on all aspects of Fort Gordon from routine purchasing to large contracts.”

Spending has already been reduced in some operational areas, Matthews said. Travel expenditures are curtailed, purchase orders and contracts are examined more rigorously, and only emergency facility maintenance work orders are serviced.

In fiscal year 2012, the economic impact of Fort Gordon was $2.04 billion, Matthews said. Civilian pay totaled $262.9 million and military pay $1.1 billion.

Government expenditures on local purchasing and some contract orders was $555.3 million, and construction funded in fiscal year 2012 was $86.2 million, Matthews said.

On Wednesday, the Department of Defense notified 800,000 civilian employees that they are likely to be placed on periods of unpaid leave. The Pentagon’s tentative plan is 22 furlough days per employee.

Including contractors, 9,000 civilians are employed on Fort Gordon, Matthews said.

Many local businesses that make a lot of money off civilian workers and military personnel could be hurt by these furlough days, Tuckey said.

“Obviously, there’s going to be a reduction in spending. Movie theaters to grocery stores to anything else,” he said. “You will see many of the businesses in the community suffer from that.”

General Dynamics, one of the largest defense contractors with operations at Fort Gordon, said it would not speculate on how sequestration could affect its employees. The company has not reduced its Augusta workforce since October, spokesman Rob Doolittle said.

“We’re considering the potentialities that could come into affect,” Doolittle said.

Local offices of defense contractors might not take a hard hit by budget cuts, Tuckey said. Companies staff mostly liaison offices in Augusta, not large scale operations for building and testing equipment, he said.

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