Army fears sequestration's indirect effects on service members

Friday - 2/22/2013, 7:18pm EST

Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and the Environment

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With sequestration now less than a week away, the Defense Department is getting serious about planning for the steep across-the-board budget cuts.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon officially notified Congress of its intent — if the cuts kick in — to furlough nearly all of its 780,000-member civilian workforce.

Civilians deployed in combat zones and military personnel will be exempt from the furloughs and workforce reductions. But that doesn't mean they won't feel the effects, DoD officials say.

A trickle-down effect on service members?

Katherine Hammack, the assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and the Environment, told In Depth with Francis Rose many of the cost-cutting measures the Army will be forced to take — such as letting service and maintenance contracts expire — could have a trickle-down effect on service members.

Katherine Hammack

For example at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va., officials have closed some of the gates that provide entry to the base, because the contracts for security guards expired. The remaining open gates are now being manned by Army civilians and even some military personnel, Hammack said.

"So some of our military personnel are going to have to take on additional duties on the base that takes them away from training and preparing to fight this nation's wars," she said.

All told, sequestration will lop more than $15 billion from the Army's budget. "And that's on top of cuts we've already had to make due to the Budget Control Act of 2011," Hammack said. "So this is like a double hit to us."

The Army estimates that in fiscal 2013, alone, 300,000 employees in the civilian sector and the industries that support the Army military structure will be affected, Hammack said.

Further deep cuts to the Army's operations and maintenance and base operating-support accounts will also hinder critical repair work, she said.

"We're essentially not going to be able to do maintenance until something breaks," she said.

Renewable energy projects could be hindered

Under Hammack's leadership, the Army has become a leader in the federal government of the use of renewable energy.

But sequestration also potentially imperils those projects as well.

Many of the Army's energy programs are run by third parties, through energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs), for example, Hammack said. And, as such, they would be relatively shielded from the direct impacts of sequestration.

"But it does take manpower and resources to executive those contracts," Hammack said. "So, if we have to furlough part of our acquisition workforce or furlough those who are working to ensure that we have the details in the contracts that we need and the right scope of work, then those contracts are going to lag. And that's another impact directly on the civilian workforce and the private sector that helps support the military."

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Follow the latest news on sequestration with Federal News Radio's Sequestration Page. Check back every day for new articles and information on how sequestration will affect DoD, civilian agencies, and industry, as well as what Congress and the White House are doing to stop it.