The Richmond Register

March 27, 2013

Sequestration furloughs pushed back two weeks at Army depot

By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer

MADISON COUNTY — The enactment of furloughs for civilian Department of Defense workers has been delayed by at least two weeks, according to officials at the Blue Grass Army Depot.

The furloughs were supposed to start in late April, and formal notices were set to go out to hundreds of Blue Grass Army Depot workers Thursday and Monday, according to Mark Henry, acting public affairs officer for the depot.

The furloughs are a part of automatic cost-cutting measures (sequestration) that the federal government must follow because Congress was unable to come to agreement on mandated budget cuts.

Civilian DoD workers originally were to reduce their hours 20 percent for 22 weeks, Henry said. That would mean a reduction of eight hours for every 40-hour work week.

However, Congress was able to pass a continuing resolution last week that will keep the government funded until Sept. 30, which is the end of the fiscal year, according to Henry.

In that bill, $10 billion in operating and maintenance funding was appropriated for the Defense Department, which can cover employee wages. This gave the DoD some flexibility when it came to implementing the furloughs, Henry said.

However, the sequestration measures must still be taken at some point unless Congress enacts a plan to reduce government spending by $1.2 trillion.

Three groups are active at the Army installation between Richmond and Berea – the Blue Grass Army Depot, Blue Grass Chemical Activity and the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives, Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant.

Blue Grass Army Depot workers will be the most affected by furloughs. About 760 civilians may be required to reduce their hours 20 percent if furloughs go into effect, Henry said.

The mission of BGAD is to provide conventional ammunition services, chemical defense equipment management and manufacturing capabilities for the Department of Defense.

When asked how the furlough will impact critical emergency services personnel, such as the on-post fire department, Henry said negotiations are ongoing with various unions and each position will be closely examined.

“It’s a tough situation right now,” Henry said. “Everyone is aware of the situation.”

"We're in limbo” right now, he said, as thousands of government workers across the country wait to see if Congress will take any action.

“The civilian workforce (at BGAD) is critical to supporting out war fighters,” Henry said.

Effects on depot chemical weapons agencies

Blue Grass Chemical Activity is a tenant organization at BGAD that oversees the safe and secure storage of 523 tons of chemical weapons at the site.

The furloughs will affect 119 civilian employees with Blue Grass Chemical Activity, according to Chasity Pearson, its public affairs officer. Military soldiers also are part of the personnel, but they will not be required to take furloughs.

“The No. 1 priority still remains the safety of the chemical stockpile,” Pearson said.

Because employees typically work 10-hour shifts, four days a week, the chemical activity organization has a plan for a “staggered work schedule,” Pearson said. She explained some people would work Monday through Wednesday and others Tuesday through Thursday, for example.

The Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives, or ACWA, has the least number of workers that would be required to take furloughs. Twenty-nine civilian DoD workers are currently part of ACWA, according to Public Affairs Officer Stephanie Parrett.

ACWA is in charge of constructing and eventually destroying the chemical weapon stockpile. The majority of workers on the project are civilian contractors.

The plant construction is currently 65 percent complete, and destruction of the stockpile will commence in 2018 with a target completion date in 2021.

Parrett said the furloughs, if enacted, will not affect the overall timetable for the ACWA project at Blue Grass Army Depot.

Sarah Hogsed can be reached at shogsed@richmondregister.com or 624-6694.