Civilian Employees on Military Bases Face Furloughs
Preparing for cuts, JBER could reduce hours for 2,200 workers
ANCHORAGE - The Department of Defense is planning to furlough thousands of civilian employees across the country as part of a money-saving measure in anticipation of budget cuts that will automatically kick in March 1 unless Congress acts.
“If furloughs are enacted,” Acting Under Secretary of Defense Jessica Wright said today, “civilians [employed by the military] will experience a 20 percent decrease in their pay between late April and September."
The furloughs are part of a plan by the Pentagon to save $5 billion on bases across the country. And although the cuts are nation-wide, they'll hit Anchorage particularly hard.
“I don't think any of us were prepared for this,” Gail Richardson said today outside her favorite off-base restaurant. She’s a military veteran who has worked as a civilian employee at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) for nearly a decade. If the furloughs go through, she and more than 2,200 other civilian employees on base will be working—and getting paid—just four days a week.
“There could be a furloughs with us, being furloughed for one day a week, for as long as possibly 22 weeks,” she said. The reduced workweek could be a challenge—laughing, she said her office “could use a couple more bodies” as it is—but she’s confident the cuts won’t keep her from doing her job.
But the impact of furloughs will be felt beyond the borders of JBER.
“The military is big business in this town,” state economist Neal Fried said, “and as far as civilians go, there's over 2,000 civilians tied to the military base,” with another 1,000 people in involved with private sector contracts.
In many ways, Fried said, the Anchorage economy runs on military money.
“The military buys a lot of stuff. Military employees all live off base. And there are a lot of businesses that cater to, or part of their business caters, to the military,” Fried said. While Fried said it’s not clear just how the cuts would impact spending in and around Anchorage, he said a sizable drop in income for a large number of families means “here are certainly businesses that could very well feel the impact of this thing.”
“Federal dollars play a much bigger role in Anchorage, and in the state's economy, whether it's the military or civilian side of the federal government,” he said.
The Pentagon is hoping that furloughs are a last resort. But many people in Anchorage—from the employees themselves, to the businesses they support, to the economists that track it all—are keeping an eye on the clock, as it ticks down to the March 1 deadline just one week away.