Congress approves funding to avoid SRS furloughs

 

A $79 million federal funding request for Savannah Ri­ver Site could receive expedited final approval from the White House’s Office of Man­age­ment and Budget to halt employee furloughs, according to U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.

The money requested by the De­part­ment of Energy was approved Wednesday by two House and two Sen­ate committees. The proposal, which would reassign funding from other projects to SRS, was delayed more than a month until the White House office gave its first OK this month.

“In eight days, Congress took the right steps to reprogram funding,” Wilson said. “Now, this should be expedited.”

Thousands of SRS employees face an imminent threat of reduced working hours, and hundreds of jobs could be eliminated under widespread federal budget cuts known as sequestration.

“Everyone understands the effect on a family of a 20 percent pay reduction,” Wilson said.

The Energy Department said Thurs­day that the reassigned funds will ensure high-priority activities continue at SRS.

“While the impacts of sequestration cannot be completely mitigated, this is an important step to ensuring the cleanup mission makes as much progress as possible with the available resources,” department spokeswoman Lindsey Geisler said in an e-mail.

Wilson credited a town-hall meeting in Aiken this month and teamwork from area chambers of commerce with pressuring Con­gress to take action.

Forty delegates representing the Greater Aiken, Augusta Metro, Co­lum­bia County and North Augusta chambers of commerce traveled to Washing­ton last week and met with lawmakers, said David Jameson, the president and CEO of Greater Aiken chamber.

“I am hopeful this work will be complete,” Jameson said. “It will be a great relief for so many people, and we couldn’t be happier. These are our friends and neighbors, and we care about their financial well-being.”

He said the area’s economy has already suffered because of work schedule reductions that went into effect soon
after sequestration began in March.

“Two months of furloughs has meant about $15 million lost to this community, and we don’t need that to continue,” Jameson said.

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