Congress appropriates millions to Anniston Army Depot
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Jan 16, 2014 | 7119 views |  0 comments | 98 98 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Employees work on a Stryker combat vehicle at the Anniston Army Depot in this 2010 photo. (File photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Employees work on a Stryker combat vehicle at the Anniston Army Depot in this 2010 photo. (File photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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The federal budget that cleared Congress on Thursday could soon pump millions of dollars into Anniston's defense industry, helping ensure steady work in contrast to the layoffs and cutbacks the industry faced last year.

According to the office of Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the $1.1 trillion appropriations bill Congress sent to the president’s desk Thursday contains $135 million in work for General Dynamics Land Systems, much of which would be slated for the company's Anniston site. Meanwhile, Anniston Army Depot officials expect steady work and the hiring of more than 200 workers this year. The situation is a far cry from last year, when hundreds were laid off or furloughed at the depot and General Dynamics in Anniston due to budget cutbacks.

The Senate voted 72-26 Thursday for the budget measure, which cleared the House a little more than 24 hours earlier on a similarly lopsided vote. Obama's signature on the bill was expected in time to prevent any interruption in government funding Saturday at midnight, according to the Associated Press. Also under the bill, civilian federal workers would get their first pay hike in four years, a 1 percent cost-of-living increase, the AP reported.

Of the money appropriated to General Dynamics, $45 million is allocated for upgrades of Stryker combat vehicles. General Dynamics in Anniston, which has a public-private partnership with the depot, focused mainly on Stryker upgrade work last year, giving the vehicles more protection against improvised explosive devices.

Due to the federal budget cutbacks, much of General Dynamics' other combat vehicle repair work decreased, resulting in the layoffs of more than 200 workers in Anniston. The company employs 300 workers.

The proposed budget also would appropriate $90 million to General Dynamics for repair and upgrade work for M1 Abrams tanks. General Dynamics spokesman Peter Keating said if approved, much of that money would likely be spent in General Dynamics' Ohio facility, but the depot would also get some work.

"Depot employees would have a share in the upgrade work with General Dynamics employees in Ohio," he said.

The depot employs almost 3,000 workers who repair, modify and upgrade combat vehicles and small arms for the military, including Abrams tanks.

Shea Miller, spokeswoman for Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, said the congressman supported the appropriations.

"Congressman Rogers is pleased to see these and other investments for the Anniston Army Depot and is proud of the great work the depot does for our men and women in uniform," Miller said.

Keating said that though the $45 million is for Stryker upgrades, his company still does not know how many vehicles will require work or whether more workers will be needed.

"The Army's Stryker program office will not have their plans in place until later this year," Keating said. "When we receive the next Stryker contract, the answer to how many vehicles and if General Dynamics has to hire additional employees at Anniston will be available."

Even without the new appropriations, General Dynamics’ Anniston employees have significant work scheduled this year. In September, the Army awarded the company a $118 million contract to upgrade 66 Strykers.

"That work does not begin until Spring of this year," Keating said.

The depot also expects plenty of work this year, even without additional appropriations.

"The workload at Anniston Army Depot for fiscal year 2014 remains stable," said Col. Brent Bolander, depot commander.

Part of the reason for the stable work this year is due to last year’s furloughs and layoffs. The depot laid of 371 temporary employees in March due to budget cuts. Sequestration later that year led to furloughs for depot workers. Both moves led to a backlog of work that has spread into 2014.

Bolander noted that the depot is still in the process of hiring 294 temporary workers to help meet the 2014 work schedule. The depot announced its decision to hire more workers in November.

Nathan Hill, military liaison for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, said 2014 should be a good year for depot employees.

"I think it will a great year for depot employees compared to last year," Hill said. "There's more work than there was in 2013 ... and our representatives have done a super job in putting money in for the Strykers."

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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