WASHINGTON – With
Christmas approaching and the Bush administration trying
to ratchet up pressure on Congress to pass a wartime
funding bill, the Marine Corps commandant said yesterday
that thousands of civilians working at Marine bases in San
Diego County and elsewhere face furloughs beginning March
Workers should know by Christmas whether they will face
furloughs, Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway said.
The temporary layoffs at Marine bases as well as Army
installations would be part of the Pentagon cost-cutting
necessary if Congress does not pass war-funding
legislation acceptable to President Bush.
Bush has asked Congress to approve $178 billion in
funding to pay for military operations in Afghanistan and
Iraq without any timetable for withdrawal. The House
passed a $50 billion bill to partially fund the wars last
month, but it included a withdrawal timetable for forces
Senate Democrats, faced with Republican opposition,
could not muster the 60 votes needed to bring the bill to
the floor for a vote. Bush has threatened to veto any bill
with a troop withdrawal timetable for Iraq.
Hanging in the balance during this standoff between
Congress and the White House are 24,000 civilian jobs at
“That's a pretty serious drop in terms of capacity,”
Conway told reporters at the Pentagon. “And I think even
then, we're talking about a fairly brief period of time.
So we're hopeful that . . . this thing gets resolved well
before then . . . and we're not faced with what would be
some really tough decisions.”
Civilians handle a wide array of tasks on military
bases, ranging from law enforcement, fire protection and
medical care to providing utility and trash services,
child care and library support.
Although Conway said 24,000 jobs were at risk, he was
still awaiting assessments of the impact of the cuts from
his commanders, which are to be delivered to him today.
The potential impact in San Diego is uncertain. The
Marine Corps has not estimated the number of jobs that
would be affected in San Diego or in other Marine
However, based on Gates' plan to furlough all
“nonessential” civilian personnel, the ax could fall on
hundreds or even thousands of civilian employees and
contractors at Camp Pendleton, Miramar Marine Corps Air
Station and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.
Camp Pendleton alone has about 3,100 full-time civilian
employees and 1,750 contractors on base, according to the
latest figures provided by the base.
Federal law requires that furlough notices go out 60
days ahead of layoffs and that labor unions be notified 90
days ahead of time.
Gates said the furloughs would become necessary for the
Army in February if it runs out of operations funds. The
Marine Corps would run out of money in March.
Gates' plan calls for furloughing 100,000 civilian
employees and 100,000 contractors at Army and Marine
Some lawmakers contend that Gates can avoid layoffs by
delaying payments or transferring contracts from one
service to another – a claim the Pentagon denies.
In a letter to Gates this week, Reps. James Moran, D-Va.,
Tom Davis, R-Va., and several other lawmakers challenged
the Pentagon to “utilize every budgetary flexibility it
possesses to delay the possible furlough of any
Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to testify before the
House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Although the
topic of the hearing is Afghanistan, lawmakers are almost
certain to ask about the threatened furloughs, which
Democrats have branded a political ruse designed to