With massive defense cuts scheduled to take effect March 1 if Congress fails to reach a budget deal, the Army has issued guidelines for military bases and depots to follow to lower costs. The guidelines will only be implemented if the cuts, generally referred to as sequestration, take effect. And some economic and military experts say such cuts could mean job losses and a general weakening of the economies of Calhoun County and the state.
Sequestration was first conceived to be so devastating that Congress would be forced to replace it with a reasonable long-term plan to reduce spending. Congress has yet to reach a deal, however. Sequestration is scheduled to cut 9.4 percent from the defense budget and 8.2 percent from domestic programs.
The guidelines, laid out in a Wednesday memo to service leaders Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, include the possible canceling of third and fourth quarter 2013 depot maintenance, reset orders and contracts that do not directly support units deployed in combat. Most of the work at the Anniston Army Depot involves maintenance or repair and refurbishing work for military vehicles and weapons that are not being sent back into the field, said Nathan Hill, military liaison for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce.
“Several depots could be impacted,” Hill said. “It could impact jobs … it could impact the depot’s core mission.”
Hill noted there still were no details about how the depot maintenance cutbacks would be implemented.
“It’s not known right now,” Hill said.
Clester Burdell, spokeswoman for the depot, said she could not speak about how sequestration might impact the facility.
“We are not allowed at this level to speak of the impact on the depot,” Burdell said.
In a Thursday email to The Star, Lira Frye, spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Materiel Command, which makes decisions regarding maintenance work at the depot, could not say how the memo’s proposals might directly impact the Anniston facility.
“Regarding any impact to Anniston Army Depot, at this point, it’s too soon to provide details,” Frye wrote.
The memo also proposes civilian hiring freezes, furloughs and laying off all temporary civilian employees after their contracts expire. The Anniston Army Depot currently has 371 temporary employees, whose contracts do not extend beyond March 30. The depot employs a total of about 3,000 civilians. Frye noted that temporary workers would not be laid off arbitrarily.
“Temporary employees have certain rights and the Army will not terminate their employment without taking the required steps, including adherence to the proper notification periods,” she wrote in the email.
The memo also proposes reducing 2013 military base operating funds 30 percent compared to 2012 funding levels.
Shea Snider, spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, who is on the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Homeland Security, said the congressman was strongly opposed to sequestration.
“Congressman Rogers believes the indiscriminate Sequestration reductions are poorly designed and could significantly impact our military’s readiness,” Snider wrote. “They should be stopped. Ultimately, it will be up to the President and the Department of Defense to decide exactly how and where they occur.”
Any significant cuts to the military installations across Alabama could hurt the state’s economy. According to a recent study from the Pew Center on the States, in 2010, defense spending made up 7 percent of Alabama’s gross domestic product compared to the national average of 3.5 percent — placing it in the top five states that rely the most on federal defense money.
“The extent of the military’s presence, look at Montgomery and Anniston, it’s pretty significant,” said Keivan Deravi, economist at Auburn University Montgomery. “Depending on the cuts, it could have an enormous impact.”
Besides the immediate loss of jobs at the depot and other military contractors, the cuts could hurt surrounding businesses as well.
“Locally, the impact will be very, very huge,” Deravi said. “Those workers, they have homes, they need plumbers, they go to the movies and they go to restaurants — all would be impacted.”
However, Deravi said he did not believe sequestration will take place.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said. “If it’s going to happen, it will be the height of irresponsibility.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.