Army leaders discuss impact of budget cuts

AP News
Posted: Mar 08, 2013 5:46 PM
Army leaders discuss impact of budget cuts

FORT RILEY, Kan. (AP) — A senior Fort Riley commander said Friday steps were being taken to mitigate cuts in federal defense spending, ranging from changing training schedules to furloughing civilian employees.

Brig. Gen. Donald MacWillie held a briefing at 1st Infantry Division headquarters in northeast Kansas, where the cuts could result in furloughs for some 2,700 civilian employees. The unpaid time off could start in April and run through September, resulting in a 20 percent pay cut.

"I have very little flexibility remaining. So if there's another big shoe that falls, then we'll probably have another gathering like this," MacWillie said. "The decisions that will be made, clearly we've got contingencies that we've thought through, but unknown in the future. But we are postured to be able to accept that."

The Pentagon is expected to take a large proportion of the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts through the remainder of the fiscal year.

MacWillie said Friday's discussion was his own effort to inform the public and surrounding communities about the cuts and not part of a coordinated Army effort. A news conference regarding Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, was held at the city's chamber of commerce office Friday. President Barack Obama recently used bases as backdrops as he made pleas to Congress to avoid the cuts.

"Why not step out and tell everybody, 'Here are my cards and they're facing outward,'" MacWillie said. "You can ask me question. You may not like my answers but I have an obligation as a leader to look you in the eye and tell you which direction I'm going in and we can have a dialogue about it.

"The fact that other posts are doing it may be that we've learned that it's good to come out and talk to people."

Fort Riley is home to nearly 18,000 soldiers, as well as countless families and retirees. MacWillie said it was unclear just how the spending cuts would be felt in the nearby communities, but that they would be felt as paychecks are trimmed.

No soldiers were present at Friday's news conference.

MacWillie said the post was also looking at all civilian contracts and seeing where savings can be found. He said one example of cost-saving would be to use military vehicles around the post instead of paying for a van fleet, especially because the entire division — and their vehicles — are back from deployments.

He said 43 contract employees who were hired last April to backfill division staff that was deployed to Afghanistan will be let go early, as the uniformed staff is slated to return next week. Another three contracted employees at the brigade level were also released early.

In El Paso, city leaders said a study showed Fort Bliss and its medical center brings in $5.9 billion to the area's economy and creates nearly 62,000 jobs. Those officials also said that the automatic budget cuts would greatly impact the area, though they didn't give specifics. They said plan to lobby their congressional delegation and Pentagon officials next week.