Mandatory furloughs for Defense Department civilian employees are taking a bite out of paychecks on both sides of Interstate 5.
About 850 employees of the Washington National Guard – headquartered at Camp Murray in Lakewood – are scheduled to take 11 unpaid days off from this week through the end of September, just like their counterparts at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on the other side of the highway.
Washington Military Department spokeswoman Karina Shagren said the furloughs will cut into maintenance, training and morale. The Washington National Guard received four furlough exemptions, one of them for sexual assault prevention coordinator.
“While we’re doing what we can to keep our offices open, there’s no doubt the Washington National Guard and the Military Department will feel the impacts of these furloughs,” she wrote in an email.
The furloughs do not impact so-called activated guardsmen and some Washington National Guard units performing ongoing military activities are not facing unpaid time off.
The Western Air Defense Sector, for example, will continue scanning the skies west of the Mississippi River for signs of security threats. It’s a Washington Air National Guard program based at McChord Air Field.
More than 10,000 civilian employees at Lewis-McChord are starting to take their furloughs. They expect to lose 20 percent of their pay over the next 11 weeks.
Puget Sound lawmakers are calling on Congress to pass a budget that would replace the forced federal spending cuts known as sequestration. Those cuts cost the Pentagon about $4o billion this year and would reduce defense spending by $500 billion over the next decade.
“Every day that Congress doesn’t work on a balanced, long-term budget plan to stop the across-the-board cuts is another day that folks around the country – like the thousands of folks in our region who begin unpaid furloughs this week – have to cover for Congress’ dysfunction,” Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said in a written statement.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray have submitted bills that would replace sequestration.
Murray was the co-chairwoman of the budget “super committee” in 2011 that could not find common ground on reducing the deficit. Its inability to reach a compromise triggered the forced budget cuts that are taking place now.
At the time, Murray and other lawmakers considered them so unthinkable that they would have led Congress to block them. Murray in a written statement this week blamed Republicans for letting the forced spending reductions unfold. GOP lawmakers have favored spending plans that roll back defense cuts but slash funds for other programs.
“While Republicans work on their debt limit ransom note, hundreds of thousands of Department of Defense workers are scheduled to begin furloughs because Republicans refuse to join Democrats in a budget conference and work with us to replace all of sequestration in a responsible and fair way. The people I talk to in Washington state and the vast majority of families across the country agree that sequestration is a terrible way to cut spending,” Murray said.