Forbes, others fight defense furloughs

Published 10:50 pm Saturday, April 20, 2013

Randy Forbes, Suffolk’s voice in the U.S. House of Representatives, is among a dozen members of Virginia’s congressional delegation calling on the defense secretary to give defense agencies “full flexibility” in implementing any furloughs as a result of the so-called fiscal cliff.

The call is issued in a co-authored, bipartisan letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and it states that blanket, department-wide furloughs “would not be a vote of solidarity,” but rather would “unacceptably erode employee morale.”

Civilian furloughs would have a “significant impact” on many families and individuals residing in his district, said Forbes, chair of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee.

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Despite a recent decision to reduce the likely duration of furloughs from 22 to 14 days, the mere prospect of furloughs has a “chilling effect,” he said.

“People might not make a commitment to send a son or daughter to college – they might have reluctance,” he said as an example.

Sent Thursday, the joint letter points out the “particularly disproportionate impact on the citizens of our state” that any furloughs would have.

According to the American Forces Press Service, citing an unnamed senior defense official, furloughs will be delayed until at least mid-June, and more than 700,000 department employees will receive notices next month.

“The Navy and Marine Corps told us that they could do away with … furloughs, and we certainly hope they will do that,” though the Army has been unable to give the same assurance, Forbes said.

He agreed that the impact of furloughs would therefore be diluted in Suffolk, with a Navy-centric military community, but he also noted that some citizens commute to the Army’s Fort Lee.

The final outcome, Forbes said, will depend to a large extent on the final form of the 2014 budget.

If given flexibility, agencies are likely to spend this year to avoid furloughs if adequate funding is assured for next year, he said.

The nation went over the “fiscal cliff” after federal lawmakers missed a March 1 deadline for a budget compromise to avoid automatic cuts set in 2011 by the congressional “super committee” charged with cutting spending to avoid default on the national debt.

Under what is referred to as sequestration, across-the-board cuts will carve $500 billion from defense budgets for 2012-2021, on top of $487 billion already agreed to.

The idea was to make the automatic cuts so severe that lawmakers would be forced to do business, but partisanship won out in the end.

“I voted against sequestration when it came up, and fought it for over a year and a half,” Forbes said.