The Edmond Sun

February 6, 2013

One terminated in sequestration-related defense cuts

By JAMES BEATY
CNHI News Service

McALESTER — So far, one employee has been laid off at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in relation to the pending sequestration budget cuts.

A hiring freeze has been enacted, but no other employees have been terminated, laid off or furloughed, according to McAPP Public Affairs Specialist Kevin Jackson.

Jackson responded Tuesday to questions from the McAlester News-Capital. Questions were framed in connection with Department of Defense directives sent out in regard to looming defense budget cuts required by the sequestration issue.

Sequestration refers to $1.2 trillion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts for both defense and non-defense spending, set to go into effect March 1 if Congress does not act to stop them.

With the previously-mentioned exception, Jackson said no McAAP employees have been given any kind of formal notice regarding termination in regard to sequestration.

“No (other) employees have been terminated at this time; there’s so much uncertainty,” Jackson said.

In addition, Jackson said no employees have been furloughed, which is an unpaid day off.

“Furloughs would be a last resort,” Jackson said. “That decision would be made by the secretary of the Army.”

A hiring freeze has been ordered at all Department of Defense facilities, although an exemption can be sought under certain conditions. McAAP is currently seeking an exemption to fill a firefighters’ position, Jackson said. That position is considered important for the safety of the plant and firefighters are considered critical personnel, according to Jackson.

Jackson said McAAP had been directed by the defense department to terminate any temporary employees who are not “mission-critical.”

“We had one temporary employee and that person has been terminated,” Jackson said.

 McAAP has 470 term employees, 575 permanent employees and 344 permanent on-call employees, Jackson said. Another 69 employees are considered “non-appropriated fund” employees, who are often morale, welfare and recreational workers, according to Jackson.

Employee numbers cited by Jackson are for McAAP alone and do not include contract employees, U.S. Army Defense Ammunition Center employees or other tenant employees, he said

Term employees are those given a specific term of duty when they are hired and are given a not-to-exceed date regarding their employment, according to Jackson.

“We are not to exceed term appointments without (being granted) an exception,” Jackson said. “We have asked for an exception to policy to expand mission-critical appointments.”

Jackson said McAAP Commander Col. Timothy Beckner has spoken with McAAP employees through a series of town hall meetings on the base in an effort to keep them informed. He last spoke to them Monday, Jackson said early Tuesday

Planning scenarios are under way at all levels depending on what McAAP may be forced to do because of the pending budget cuts which will be required if sequestration goes into effect.

If sequestration does go into effect, there are still procedures which will be retained, according to Jackson.

“We will not do anything to jeopardize safety,” Jackson said.

He also said current orders for McAAP production and services will continue to be filled.

“We have orders and nobody has canceled any orders,” he said.

One way McAAP might try to cut back on spending is by a reduction in travel, according to Jackson. The Army has also warned of possible significant cuts in maintenance and operations budgets in facilities.

The defense department already faced $487 billion in cuts for projected defense spending as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Congress postponed the additional across-the-board sequestration cuts, which were originally set to go into effect Jan. 1 unless the lawmakers acted to change the deadline. Lawmakers ended up postponing the sequestration action until March 1, supposedly with the idea of giving them more time to come to an agreement.

They originally came up with the sequestration idea by proposing across-the-board budget cuts that would be so drastic it would force Congress to come to an agreement on individual areas where spending could be reduced. So far though, lawmakers have failed to reach a deal  to avoid the March 1 sequestration date — and some are apparently ready to let the ax fall.

Last Friday, U.S. District 2 Congressman Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, said he did not vote for sequestration, but he’s 95 percent sure it will go into effect on March 1. (The original sequestration measure was already in effect when Mullin won election in November and took office in January.)

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, who is ranking member on the Republican side of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he has been actively working to try and head off the sequestration cuts to defense spending. He’s requested several hearings in Washington designed to show the impact sequestration will have on the nation’s military if it goes into effect.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.