San Diego Union Tribune

December 6, 2007

Civilian workers facing furloughs, top Marine says

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

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 24.


 

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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 in Iraq.

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 Marine bases.

“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 communities.

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 bases.

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 employees.”

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 pressure Congress.

 

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