TOBYHANNA — Tobyhanna Army Depot, the region’s largest employer, is taking steps to reconcile $309 million in lost funding brought on by the federal government’s sequestration.
One way it plans to reduce its spending is by requiring all 5,136 civilian employees to take 22 unpaid furlough days through September.
The installation issued its first public comments on Tuesday detailing how a $309 million reduction in funding from its planned $873.3 million budget will be felt.
“If sequestration is not reversed, Tobyhanna Army Depot will move forward with unpaid furloughs to its 5,136 civilian employees for 22 non-consecutive days (totaling 176 hours) between late April and Sept. 30,” a release stated. “Union negotiations are under way to determine the details of furlough implementation.”
Austin Burke, the head of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, noted the voluntary acceptance of early retirement by 150 depot employees last week was a smart move that will likely save jobs and money.
Also, depot officials already have implemented other initiatives that include: Freezing hiring.
•Restricting purchases of supplies.
•Deferring plans to modernize and upgrade depot facilities and equipment.
And, members of a special depot project team are developing plans that will position Tobyhanna for the workload and budget challenges of the next several years.
In a message to the depot work force, the depot commander urged personnel to remain focused on mission requirements. “I know this issue has been weighing on all of us,” said Col. Gerhard Schröter. “Our war fighters continue to rely upon Tobyhanna and they deserve our finest efforts every day.”
The sequestration kicked in March 1 when Congress and the president could not agree on budget compromise and the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts went into effect. The $85 billion in cuts apply to the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. But without a deal, officials will continue slashing government spending by about $1 trillion more over a 10-year period.
Word of a House GOP-proposed Continuing Resolution to maintain the 2011 budget came out Tuesday, and a vote could occur later this week. One of the key parts of the House proposal would keep the sequestration cuts in effect except for the appropriations budget, through which Tobyhanna receives its funding.
Whether the Democratic-controlled Senate would go along with the plan is unclear.
But U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said the plight of Tobyhanna “is further evidence that the indiscriminate nature of the sequester cuts doesn’t make sense.”
“Republicans and Democrats should come together immediately to avert these cuts before these furloughs at Tobyhanna and countless other places across the country take place,” said Casey. “Tobyhanna is critical to Northeastern Pennsylvania’s economy and our nation’s security. It’s vital that sequestration be fixed so workers at Tobyhanna can continue to provide for their families and support our troops.”
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, who has been in office two months, chided Republicans and the gridlock in Congress that he says has led to the the predicament hundreds of thousands of American citizens find themselves in today because of sequestration.
“(Tuesday’s) announcement from the Tobyhanna Army Depot should remind us about the consequences of Congress’s inaction on sequestration, and I am deeply concerned about this recent news,” Cartwright said. “Rather than work toward a solution to avert the irresponsible and reckless spending cuts of the sequester, Republicans have wasted significant time, having held only 20 legislative days out of the last 64. Congress can work together to find a balanced approach to deficit reduction while meeting the needs of our military — one which won’t result in layoffs and furloughs. I hope that the Republican majority will allow a vote on HR 900.”
That resolution, which Cartwright is a cosponsor of, is a one-sentence bill that he said “will eliminate the sequester, so working families in Northeastern Pennsylvania don’t have to share in the pain of Congress’s inability to compromise.”
State Sen, John Blake, D-Archbald, whose 22nd District includes Tobyhanna, said the fact the depot had to even come up with a furlough plan shamefully puts American workers in the cross hairs.
“It is upsetting that one of the most productive, efficient and reliable work forces in the nation — the work force at Tobyhanna Army Depot — may be subject to unpaid furloughs as a result of the federal budget debacle that is sequestration,” Blake said. “It is also disconcerting that this fiscal crisis — this avoidable fiscal crisis — could impact upon the essential services Tobyhanna provides to our war fighters around the world.”