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MacDill AFB braces for hardships of federal shutdown

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Published:   |   Updated: October 1, 2013 at 06:34 AM

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If congressional squabbling over Obamacare leads to a government shutdown, hundreds of civilians at MacDill Air Force Base will be forced to take unpaid time off and the efficiency of the base and its two major military commands will be greatly affected, military officials said Monday.

Members of the armed forces should receive their regular paychecks even if the government does shut down. The Senate on Monday adopted a bill to pay the military in the event of a government shutdown; the House passed the legislation on Sunday.

There are more than 4,000 civilian employees at MacDill, including about 2,200 government service employees working at U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, the 6th Air Mobility Wing, the 927th Air Refueling Wing and other units.

Centcom has a civilian workforce of about 900 with about 1,300 military personnel, said Oscar Seara, a Centcom spokesman. But as of Monday afternoon, the command could not say how many civilians would face furloughs.

There are about 1,000 civilian employees at Socom and about 1,100 active-duty military assigned to the headquarters, spokesman Ken McGraw said. All but 33 of Socom’s civilian workforce would be affected.

Though not all the numbers are in, base officials say a shutdown would have drastic affects.

“If the government shuts down, MacDill would be affected just like every other military installation around the world,” said Terry Montrose, a spokesman for the 6th Air Mobility Wing, the base host unit. “Most operations and activities will halt and many civilian employees assigned to the 6th Air Mobility Wing will be furloughed. The absence of our civilian airmen will have an incredible impact on services across the base.”

Family readiness, education and training and medical programs would all be adversely affected, said Montrose.

“The government shutdown will have a lasting impact on our families and service men and women, but should not hinder existing operations or the safety and security of our forces and base,” he said.

“The Centcom command and staff know that the uncertainty of the current situation puts our civilian workforce in a difficult situation and, should a lapse occur, it could potentially impose hardships on many employees,” Seara wrote in an email to The Tampa Tribune. “Without question, the efficiencies of Centcom would be significantly impacted if furloughs are implemented. Like the rest of the Defense Department, it could impose hardships on many employees and impact important national security projects.”

While Socom could not offer specifics on how a shutdown will affect the command, “It is common sense that any organization with a quarter of its workforce on furlough is not going to be at peak efficiency,” said McGraw.

As of Monday afternoon, the 6th Air Mobility Wing was still trying to sort out the impact, Montrose said.

“Some civilians who accomplish activities essential to safety of human life and protection of property will be ‘excepted’ from furlough. We are still determining the exact number of civilians that will be affected. However, most appropriated-fund civilian employees on base will be affected.”

According to the Pentagon, civilian employees “who are not necessary to carry out or support excepted activities are to be furloughed” in the event of a government shutdown.

Civilian employees at MacDill, and elsewhere, were already forced to take six unpaid days off as the result of another round of political bickering, in that case the debt ceiling issue. Because the White House and Congress could not come to an agreement on how to handle the national debt, automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, went into affect in March.

The cause of this round of potential furloughs is different.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives over the weekend voted to make delaying parts of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as a condition for keeping the government funded.

The Democrat-controlled Senate, which did not show up over the weekend to vote, is expected to vote down the House proposal.

If no compromise is reached by midnight, government funding will be shut down.

The uncertainty about a shutdown and how long it would last is creating a drag on the local economy just beginning to rebound, said Greg Celestan, chairman of the greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Celestar Corp., a company that has contracts with the military. It’s also causing morale problems for the military, civilian employee and local defense contractors, he said.

“It’s not good for anyone,” said Celestan. “The bottom line is that there will be some disruption, but no one knows to what extent or how much.”

During a government shutdown in 1995, money was set aside to reimburse government civilian employees for the time they lost.

“We don’t know if that will happen this time,” he said.

All told, there are more 90,000 federal workers in Florida, but the Office of Personnel Management could not say how many would be affected by the shutdown.

Rick Homans, president and chief executive officer of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., said whatever that figure is, the impact on the local economy could be severe.

“It really depends on how deep this goes,” he said.

Like Celestan, Homans said a shutdown would stall recent economic growth.

“Already many of these companies were struggling under sequestration,” he said. “To have an actual shutdown of government layered on top of that is enough to put some of these right over the edge.”

The Pentagon has scolded Congress for the impact of the budget fight on its personnel.

Defense Department “personnel and families have been through a lot recently,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement from South Korea on Monday. “Sequestration has meant that most of our civilian employees have already had to endure furloughs this year, causing significant stress and hardship, while service members and military families have had to deal with the needless strain of reduced readiness as well as temporary reductions in services essential to their well-being.

“I know the uncertainty of a possible shutdown only adds to the anxiety that I’m sure many of you and your families are feeling. But I also know that the Department of Defense is a strong and resilient institution. We are going into this challenge together and we will come out of it together.”

The Associated Press and reporter Kevin Wiatroswki contributed to this report.

Reporter Kevin Wiatroswki contributed to this report.

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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