U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King today applauded a decision by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to use flexibility to further minimize the furloughs of Defense Department personnel and to avoid them altogether at Navy shipyards, including Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.
For months, Senators Collins and King have stood together and argued that Secretary Hagel has the authority to allow flexibility rather than force across-the-board furloughs. In Marchand again in April, they wrote to Secretary Hagel pointing out that some military services or Defense Department components, such as the Navy and National Guard, had identified cost-efficient and effective ways to meet budget requirements without resorting to furloughs. Today, Secretary Hagel informed them that employees in Navy shipyards will be exempted from furlough "because it would be particularly difficult to make up delays in maintenance work on nuclear vessels and these vessels are critical to mission success."
In addition, the Defense Department says nearly all dual status technicians in the Army National Guard and Air National Guard will be subject to furlough.
During a Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee hearing last week, Senator Collins questioned Under Secretary of Defense, Robert Hale, and questioned the Defense Department's rationale for a "one-size-fits-all" sequester.
"I have long believed, and argued, that across-the-board furloughs within the Defense Department simply didn't make sense," said Senator Collins, a senior member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. "Furloughs at our nation's naval shipyards, such as Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, would have cost the government more money than they saved, disrupted the supply chain, affected mission critical work, and delayed the return of submarines and ships to our naval fleet. In addition, these furloughs would have had a negative impact on the hardworking men and women at the shipyard, their families, and on the economy of our communities and state.
"I am disappointed, however, that dedicated workers at the Defense Finance and Accounting Services Centers, like the one in Limestone, continue to face furloughs. This is going to create hardship for so many families. And, I continue to believe the National Guard should have been exempted because it has a plan to avoid furloughs while meeting budget targets.
"Finally, I am perplexed that Secretary Hagel appears to have chosen against submitting a supplemental budget request to pay for the unexpected higher war costs that account for more than 25 percent of the shortfall in the readiness accounts that are resulting in the need for furloughs. If the reason for the shortfall is, in part, due to miscalculation of the costs associated with the war in Afghanistan, the Administration should submit a supplemental budget request rather than putting this burden on the backs of DoD civilians," continued Senator Collins.
"I'm pleased that Secretary Hagel has heeded our call to adopt a flexible approach to minimize, and in some cases completely avoid, indiscriminately furloughing the entire Defense Department civilian workforce," said Senator King, a member of the Armed Services Committee. "His decision is welcome news for a significant number of civilian employees in Maine, like those at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, who can now maintain a sense of financial security and continue to carry out their critical national security work at the yard. But there are still civilian employees in Maine, specifically at DFAS in Limestone, and hundreds of thousands more across the country, who are going to feel the real and deep impact of this announcement. The fact remains that these furloughs will disrupt lives and impair our nation's military readiness by delaying and deferring critical work, costing more money at the end of the day. It further underscores the need for Congress to resolve sequestration in a comprehensive manner, and to that end, I will continue to push the President and my colleagues to work together on a deficit reduction plan that replaces sequestration and puts our country on a path toward financial stability."
Senator King, a member of the Armed Services Committee and the Subcommittee on Seapower, has questioned and met with top Defense Department and Navy officials about sequestration and its impact on the nation's military readiness. In January, Senator King met with then-Senator Hagel, and during April's Department of Defense posture hearing, emphasized to Secretary Hagel that deferring maintenance and repair efforts through sequestration would ultimately cost money. Senator King has also questioned Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert during committee hearings, and personally met with Admiral John Richardson, the Director of the Navy's Nuclear Naval Propulsion Program, and Sean Stackley, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, to discuss Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Senator King, also a member of the Budget Committee, helped to craft and pass a budget resolution that would completely replace sequestration and he took to the Senate floor last week to urge his colleagues to proceed with a conference committee on the budget.