by Brad Harper
With a week left for Congress to reach a compromise and avoid deep military cuts, U.S. Rep. Martha Roby spent part of Thursday afternoon climbing a 1950s-era structure at Maxwell Air Force Base to get a better view of the crisis.
"It's the oldest air traffic control tower in the United States Air Force," said Roby, R-Montgomery. "With the number of planes that come into and out of here, it's important that they have the proper support structure in place.
"If any individual had the opportunity to see this and understood the mission here, you would know that it's antiquated and that it needs to be a priority for the Air Force and at the Pentagon."
Military leaders are working to slice $46 billion out of their budgets over the next seven months as part of a last-resort attempt to delay broader, across-the-board cuts. Congress and President Barack Obama couldn't reach a budget compromise within a self-imposed deadline of 18 months to avoid the threat of $1.2 billion in military and non-military budget cuts over the next 10 years.
Part of the planned Pentagon cuts in the Montgomery area, as part of the short-term solution, or sequester, is halting three planned repair and upgrade projects at Maxwell Air Force Base as well as halting a building demolition at Gunter Annex, saving a total of $7,745,000.
A bigger concern at Maxwell is a plan to furlough 2,433 civilian personnel statewide, saving about $19 million in salary but putting a strain on manpower and resources. It also could lead to fewer courses and students at Air University, where 255 members of the faculty are civilians. In all, Maxwell has about 3,900 civilians who work on base and about 1,800 contractors.
"What is striking here at Maxwell Air Force Base is the number of civilian employees that are employed," Roby said. She pointed out that military personnel, while immune from the furloughs, would have to assume more responsibilities while the civilians are gone.
Roby, whose district also includes Fort Rucker, voted against the legislation that created the sequester in August 2011. The deadline to avoid the cuts is March 1.
"We all agree that we need to cut spending, but this is an irresponsible and dangerous way to do it when you're dealing with our national security interests and our defense," she said Thursday.
Roby blamed Obama for Congress' most recent failures to reach a compromise to the budget problem and conceded that "people are concerned" about what's ahead.
"I don't know what's going to happen," she said. "I'd like to say that there is a solution."