All of the political posturing and bickering in the other Washington finally came home to roost last week with the announcement that United States Navy issued a hiring freeze until Congress takes action on a budget.
As a result, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility has postponed a jobs fair, originally scheduled for Jan. 25-26 at the fairgrounds, and won’t be hiring 560 new workers.
Congress has yet to pass a 2013 defense budget and is instead approving spending at 2012 levels while operating under what is called a continuing resolution. In addition to the lack of a budget, despite a “fiscal cliff” deal, the Department of Defense is bracing for sequestration, or across-the-board cuts, come March 1.
“It is only prudent to plan for the worst (and hope for the best) and look for ways to slow down spending until DOD knows what’s going to happen with the budget over the next few months,” said PSNS & IMF Commander Captain Steve Williamson in an announcement this past Wednesday.
The next day, Jan. 17, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, speaking at the Surface Navy Association symposium in Washington, broke down the numbers associated with the budget crisis.
“If sequestration hits, that’s a $4.6 billion hit (to the Navy and Marine Corps) within five months. If a yearlong (continuing resolution) hits, that’s another $4.6 billion hit,” he said.
Mabus went on to ask for discretion in deciding which cuts are made, rather than an across-the-board approach.
“Give us the top line, let us manage how any cuts or reductions are made. Let us put dollars against strategy instead of simply cutting the top line,” he said.
Newly elected Congressman Derek Kilmer happened to be home last week doing a listening tour as news of the hiring freeze broke.
“The most recent episode of budget uncertainty at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard is a prime example of what’s wrong with Congress,” he said in a statement. “Even though we have the work and the workers, the shipyard career fair had to be postponed because Congress won’t do its job.
“This is a no-brainer — Puget Sound Naval Shipyard needs to be able to actively recruit and hire workers,” Kilmer continued. “Our local economy needs it and our national security depends on it.”
Plenty of folks at DOD agree. In a press briefing earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta addressed the budget uncertainty.
“While we appreciate ... that both parties came together to delay sequester, the unfortunate thing is sequester itself, and the sequester threat (was) not removed,” he said. “And the prospect ... is undermining our ability to responsibly manage this department.”
Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey has also weighed in on sequestration.
“As I’ve said before, sequestration is a self-inflicted wound on national security. It’s an irresponsible way to manage our nation’s defense. It cuts blindly, and it cuts bluntly. It compounds risk, and it ... compromises readiness. In fact, readiness is what’s now in jeopardy. We’re on the brink of creating a hollow force, the very thing we said we must avoid,” Dempsey said.
The federal government’s budget mess has led to more than just a hiring freeze at the shipyard in Bremerton. This past Wednesday, PSNS & IMF Commander Captain Steve Williamson, laid out some of the other immediate consequences:
• Any government sponsored conferences scheduled for January to March 2013 will be postponed to April or after. Non-government sponsored conferences must contribute to DoN mission. NAVSEA will minimize costs by not allowing travel and lodging except for invited speakers/presenters when deemed mission essential.
• All non-mission essential travel and training will be cut back.
• Use of overtime is being reviewed to ensure only mission essential overtime is authorized.
• Additional reviews and controls are being implemented on new contract obligations.
• Temporary and Term Employment (including Seasonal Employees) requirements for the remainder of FY13 are being reviewed. Capt. Williamson also directed individual commands to identify their mission essential needs by the end of the week.
“With respect to furloughs, there has been no decision relative to enacting civilian furloughs,” Captain Williamson wrote. “I am advised that, if implemented, civilian furloughs will be centrally managed and will be a government-wide effort with limited exceptions. I am also advised that the Department of Defense or the White House will control future guidance with respect to civilian furloughs.”
Question-and-answer fact sheets regarding furloughs are available on the OCHR website at www.donhr.navy.mil.