Technicians at the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing received some good news last week with the announcement that the U.S. Department of Defense had canceled six unpaid furlough days that were scheduled through late September.
The 220 military technicians at the wing, who are civilian employees but also serve as members of the Air National Guard, were originally to be furloughed a total of 11 days between July 8 and September 30 as a result of the across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration.
But last Tuesday, August 6, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the department was able to reallocate about $1 billion in this year’s defense budget and cancel the remaining six days, easing the burden on the technicians who are based at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, as well as hundreds of thousands of Department of Defense employees nationwide. Earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration threatened to close the tower at Gabreski, along with 188 others across the country, also due to sequestration; the administration decided weeks later to keep 40 of the targeted control towers open, including the one in Westhampton, due to national security concerns.
“Protecting our military’s civilian employees from the harsh impact of sequestration was the right thing to do,” U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, a Democrat from Southampton, said in a prepared statement. “We also must protect America’s economy and vulnerable populations from the harsh impact of this poorly crafted policy by replacing it with a balanced approach to reducing long-term deficits.”
The 11 furlough days would have resulted in a roughly 20-percent pay cut during that time period for the technicians, who met with Mr. Bishop earlier this month outside their base in Westhampton to draw attention to the negative impact of sequestration. Sean Gavin and A.J. Wineberger, both dual-status technicians and helicopter pilots, explained at the time that some of their colleagues were struggling to provide for their families, and that they had considered seeking employment elsewhere.
Mr. Wineberger added that many of the technicians had been deployed overseas and returned home to learn that their pay was to be reduced. Guardsmen at the 106th Rescue Wing respond to emergencies in New York at the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo, but also deploy worldwide to carry out personnel recovery, combat search-and-rescue and combat support missions.
In an email sent earlier this week, Mr. Gavin wrote that he was pleased to hear the news, though the development does not reduce the threat of more furloughs, or even layoffs, during the 2014 fiscal year. If Congress does not reach a deal to replace the across-the-board cuts by October 1, the Department of Defense will be forced to trim an additional $54 billion from its budget.
Oliver Longwell, a spokesman for the congressman, said Mr. Bishop remains hopeful that Congress would succeed in passing legislation that replaces the across-the-board cuts when it reconvenes after its summer recess on September 9.
Mr. Gavin said he appreciates the congressman’s support. “However, I remain frustrated with sequestration, and the apparent attitude in Washington of ‘business as usual,’ exhibited by members of both major parties,” he added.