Furloughs for almost 500 Capital Region residents who work for the New York National Guard are the latest consequences of federal sequestration that went into effect earlier this year.
This week, more than 1,750 civilian Department of Defense employees in New York who work as Guard technicians began one-day-a-week furloughs that will last 11 weeks. According to a news release from the New York National Guard, the furloughs have been implemented to ensure the force remains fully operational, but it will delay work and reduce the availability of maintenance personnel.
The unpaid leave, which is a product of sequestration caused by the federal Budget Control Act, is expected to save $4.5 million, but local congressional representatives say this all could have been avoided.
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, said in a statement, “The choice to furlough civilian employees across the board instead of conducting a thorough analysis to identify specific savings is the wrong one.”
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, stated the cuts were the equivalent of using a broad blade when a scalpel could have been used and prevented some of the pain.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, added the furloughs potentially jeopardized the country’s security, citing recent testimony before Congress by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
All three say the drastic cuts implemented by the Budget Control Act could have been avoided with a bipartisan compromise that included some mix of increased revenue and decreased spending.
Tonko said they knew the sequestration would be painful, but it has become tougher to accept when people’s livelihoods are impacted. In the case of civilian defense employees now being furloughed, he said they’re losing almost two weeks of pay and the economy is missing out on that money, too.
This isn’t the end of the pain from sequestration, either, added Owens.
“I never believed this was a day one process,” he said. “This is a day 45 and out process. As dollars are moved around to reduce furloughs it means that other projects will begin to be reduced ... It will have a ripple effect.”
A potential impact, Tonko predicted, would be a reduction in spots for the Head Start program this fall.
While Congress and President Barack Obama have not adopted any sort of grand compromise that would end sequestration, there have been tweaks to funding that have spared some programs. The most notable example was with air traffic controllers, who had a brief furlough that ended abruptly when money was moved around to get them back to work so flight delays would be avoided.
Tonko criticized that decision, calling it the politicalization of a dumb process.
“We’ve left everyone else to the whims of sequestration,” he said.
Owens noted the current round of furloughs for civilian defense employees were sharply decreased because of the maneuvering Congress made. Flexibility for the Department of Defense reduced the furlough days from 22 to 11, he said.