Doug Hintze calls it the “budget dance” and tries not to fall out of step.
“There’s a lot of back and forth, as you can imagine,” Savannah River Site’s acting chief financial officer told community leaders Thursday.
In a perfect world, the funding process for the 310-square-mile U.S. Department of Energy site yields an annual appropriation that lets everyone know, well in advance, how many dollars are available in a given year.
But the world is rarely perfect.
“Our fiscal year is Oct. 1 to Sept. 30,” he said during a public forum to discuss federal budget cuts. “We have not had an appropriation at the beginning of the year in 14 years.”
The site accounts for about 12,000 jobs. During the Cold War, its employment peaked at 38,000.
The ebb and flow of workers, and the dollars required to keep them busy, can be affected by factors such as site missions, economic conditions and politics.
Often, the site’s budget is tied to “continuing resolutions” used by Congress to keep the government operating while budget discussions are extended.
“The difference is, when you’re down at our site, trying to operate, you don’t always know the scope of the funding you’ll have,” Hintze said.
Other factors, such as this year’s sequestration cuts, can also cause confusion.
Initially, the mandated, across-the-board cuts were supposed to occur Jan. 2 and amount to a 9.4 percent reduction. It was later postponed until March, with the amount of the cut adjusted to 7.7 percent.
Officials at the site scrambled to keep in step with the changes.
“We let go of 900 folks,” Hintze said. “You can’t spend more than you get. That’s the law.”
About 2,500 site workers were furloughed this year by reducing work weeks from 40 to 32 hours.
Hintze said it is too early to tell what’s in store for fiscal 2014.
Hintze said there might be another continuing resolution in the works – but an appropriation is always possible.
“We have to plan for both cases,” he said. “We’re trying to deal with the uncertainties the best we can.”
David Moody, the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site manager, said the flow of money affects the ability to meet deadlines, especially where Environmental Management cleanup programs are concerned.
“We challenge ourselves to accomplish the most we can with the dollars we get,” Moody said.
Thursday’s forum, held at Aiken Technical College, was sponsored by the SRS Community Reuse Organization.