Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Senator Nelson and the MacDill furloughs

We are certainly disappointed that our leaders in DC, from the President on down, could not come to some agreement to work around the sequestration process they themselves enabled in the 2011 budget legislation  negotiation.  It was expected to be a bit  of a "nuclear option" to force the parties to come together to make more intelligent budget decisions in the future, since they were not smart enough to work it out in 2011.

Now as we know, they were not any smarter in 2012 or 2013, and sequestration kicked in.  The fear mongers were all over the media about how women and children would be starving, TSA would not be able to grope as frequently so they would make you wait longer, etc. etc.  It was mostly overblown.

But it has come home to roost here in Tampa Bay as civilian employees at MacDill Air Force Base now face 11 furlough, non-paid days between now and the end of September.
About 3,500 civilian employees at MacDill Air Force Base begin taking unpaid days off Monday, as part of a Department of Defense program to cut costs. The federal government estimates MacDill employees will lose about $8 million in wages over the next three months.

Each employee is to take 11 furlough days through the end of September. The furloughs were mandated by the Defense Department after automatic federal spending cuts went into effect March 1.
MacDill Air Force Base entrance
We certainly empathize with the staff and employees of MacDill that are affected.  They won't only be the ones affected.
"The impact on their lives and those around them cannot be measured, but we know it will add stress to their daily lives as well as their family," Col. Scott DeThomas, commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing and MacDill base commander, wrote in an emailed statement.

The money lost by MacDill's civilians will have a significant ripple effect.

"These folks are going to be using their savings for their needs as opposed to buying things like cars and other things that fuel other parts of the economy," said Rhea Law, CEO and chairwoman of the board of the Fowler White Boggs law firm and chief of the Command Advisory Council for the 6th Air Mobility Wing. "This is a significant hit for our entire country and certainly for our community."
It will also directly affect nearby businesses:
Slice Pizza & Grinders restaurant at 5831 S. Dale Mabry Highway is right down the road from MacDill Air Force Base. With 31,000 Department of Defense civilian workers in Florida alone being furloughed, the sequester cuts could have an impact on the bottom line here if military members start cutting back on their spending.

Jack Caramello owns the restaurant and says, "From what I've heard from my customers is that they're basically taking off one day a week, so if they're not here on base one day a week, they're not going to the local establishments."

That could take a slice out of Caramello's profits. With 12 employees on his payroll, dine-in customers are 90% of his business. Caramello is concerned Congress hasn't been able to stop the sequester cuts.
Most of this could have been avoided.  We needed Congress to do its job and pass some legislation making more intelligent cuts.  There were multiple proposals to do so, mostly from the Republicans.  And while Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)  in March proposed to cut Congressional pay for the sequester, that was too little too late.  If Nelson truly wanted more intelligent cuts, he would have suggested that when the budget deal and sequester was originally proposed in 2011. The Democrats, and the President, saw an opportunity to demonize the evil, insensitive Republicans, and wreak havoc on the citizens with all the misery the sequestration would evoke.  Thankfully, most of that misery did not happen... but it can ... and is happening to those directly affected.
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson was also recently involved in reviewing the recent MacDill security breeches. Was the sequester responsible?
On Monday, about 3,500 civilians working on base began taking time off without pay. They will be forced to take one day off without pay for the next 11 weeks. That, said Nelson, will make it more difficult for base security.
"If you have part of your civilian component that one out of seven days is not there because of the furlough, then in fact, you don't have all the personnel you are accustomed to and you have to ramp up efficiency in a military organization to make sure you have what you need."
Nelson said he is confident MacDill will remain secure despite the furloughs, which don't affect military personnel.
"With regard to base security, Col. DeThomas is going to make sure they are at max efficiency," but the furloughs present "a handicap they are dealing with. It's like going into a fight with at least part of your arm tied behind your back and yet you are still going to perform at max efficiency."
Of course, little known is that the bureaucracy of government is as much to blame, perhaps even more so than Congress and the President, for letting us down... and letting down the local employees furloughed at MacDill.  From the Washington Post:
Spend the money! Spend it all! Spend it now!

That’s the distinct impression created by a recent e-mail sent by Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) contracting and budget officers to their colleagues.
"Our available funding balances remain large in all appropriations — too large to spend” just on small supplemental funds often required by existing contracts, the June 27 e-mail said. DISA’s budget is $2 billion.

“It is critical in our efforts to [spend] 100% of our available resources this fiscal year,” said the e-mail from budget officer Sannadean Sims and procurement officer Kathleen Miller. “It is also imperative that your organization meets its projected spending goal for June. . .”
Government is supposedly too big everywhere except when it's not.

The defense department should have thought twice about those memos telling departments to spend every cent they had right before the sequester kicked in when it directly resulted in 650,000 furloughs.

These cuts are needed, but they certainly could have easily been made in a much more intelligent manner as not to result in these needless furloughs.  Congress and the President is to blame,  the bureaucracy and Senator Nelson as well.  In 2004, Senator Nelson was slamming the "reckless fiscal path" at that time.

Unfortunately, the Senate hasn't passed any budget, which is required by law, since 2009.  Nelson has conspicuously changed his tune on the budget.  Instead we got sequestration and now it's hitting our hometown now.

Just ask those affected by the furloughs at MacDill.

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