Congressman Derek Kilmer stood outside the main gate of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility last Friday morning, offering up a simple greeting to hundreds of workers streaming past him: “Hey, I’m your representative. Let me know if I can help.”
While Kilmer stood in Bremerton, President Obama and senior congressional leaders huddled at the White House. The government’s deadline for across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration had passed, triggering $4 billion in Navy cuts over the next seven months that will likely lead to furloughs for the 11,000 civilian workers at PSNS-IMF.
Kilmer said the passing of the sequestration deadline has been his biggest surprise since deciding to run for Congress.
“I’ve said for the last month when people ask me about sequestration, you’d like to think that rational actors, when pointing the gun at their own head would choose not to pull the trigger,” he said. “And, yet, Congress is letting this happen. I think this is a real mistake and I’m dead-set against it. I think it has huge impacts not just on our federal workforce, but on our entire economy.”
Several workers told Kilmer they knew who he was Friday morning and shuffled past; one patted Kilmer’s back, offering a simple salutation of his own, “Get ‘er done.”
Roy Wildes, a shipyard worker for the past eight years, stopped to speak briefly with Kilmer before heading to work.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Wildes said of sequestration. “We elect Congress to represent us and they represent themselves. I don’t blame him (Kilmer), though, he’s new.”
Kilmer said workers biggest concerns Friday morning had to do with furloughs.
“What I was really impressed by, was the number of people who expressed their concern for the broader community, small businesses here in Bremerton and throughout Kitsap County that will be impacted by this,” Kilmer said of his conversations with shipyard workers.
Rick Williams, the longtime president of the 2,000-member Bremerton Metal Trades Council, said that furlough notices were set to go out Monday of this week.
“It’s a notice to tell people there is the potential for furlough,” Williams said.
Williams said workers will be furloughed one day a week between April and September and essentially “no one will be spared.”
“We’ve got some things that have got to run 24 hours a day so I believe some of those people could be exempt,” he said.
Overall, Williams is disappointed and frustrated.
“I think Congress should have done what they were supposed to do,” he said. “They should do their jobs and right now I don’t think they’re doing their jobs and it’s impacting every employee out here. It’s huge. People really can’t afford furlough.”
Congress also has another deadline, March 27, to pass an appropriations bill. If that doesn’t happen, the Navy is projecting another $4.6 billion shortfall above and beyond the hit felt by sequestration.
Kilmer also noted that one study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says there could be up to 2 million job losses, mostly in the small business sector, as a result of sequestration.
Congress also has another deadline, March 27, to pass an actual appropriations bill rather than operating under a continuing resolution. If that continuing resolution is extended yet again, the Navy is projecting another $4.6 billion shortfall above and beyond the hit felt by sequestration.
“Most of us would rather see an actual budget and long term spending plan so that the shipyard and every federal agency can do some planning,” Kilmer said. “Whether that’s gonna happen, I think is still up in the air. It’s gonna depend on rather than doing a bunch of finger pointing and game playing, it’s going to take everybody in our nation’s capital actually working together.”