According to Stephen Barr’s column in today’s Washington Post, 100,000 federal employees and 100,000 contractor workers could have their jobs on the chopping block in February. Since federal work regulations require 60 days notice before RIFs (reduction in force is the technical term for a government layoff), the pink slips will go out at Christmas season.
The Army and the Marine Corps both say that if they run out of money to fund the Iraq war they will have to reduce operations at their bases around the U.S. According to this account:
Yesterday, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said "facts are the facts" and that military bases will have to cease operations, terminate contracts and send employees home without pay if a war-funding deal is not reached.
"Anyone who thinks that this is not a serious situation is simply misinformed or is ignoring the facts," he said in an interview with the American Forces Press Service.
However, the real story isn’t quite that straightforward. Here’s the telling quote:
Whitman's warning came a day after Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) released a letter, signed by seven other Washington area House members, calling on the Pentagon to shift money around in the department's many budget accounts to stave off furloughs.
"This is an old budget showdown tactic -- and they're using federal employees' livelihoods as leverage in a turf battle with Congress," Moran said.
Asked for his views on the furloughs, John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents thousands of Defense workers, yesterday said Secretary Robert M. Gates should "reconsider plans to lay off civilian employees in the midst of this political debate. The Defense Department should have alternatives for funding the war without laying off civilian employees --one alternative is to request authority from Congress to reprogram operation funds."
Federal employees, Gage said, are vital to the Iraq and Afghanistan war efforts, and many Defense civilian employees are military veterans who have volunteered for jobs in the combat zones. "They are the ones who care for wounded war fighters in DoD hospitals, and they are the ones who tend to the families of troops waiting at home for their loved ones," he said.
The letter that Moran released, by the way, was also signed by Reps. Tom Davis, Frank Wolf, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Elijah Cummings, Chris Van Hollen, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. In other words, the Virginia and Maryland members of Congress – both Republican and Democratic – and the DC delegate to Congress are all united in their plea to the Pentagon to shift the money around to keep the military bases funded.
This is nothing more than the Bush administration’s attempt to play chicken with Congress to get its way regardless of the cost to employee morale or the security of the country. The money is there; the funding of salaries can be met through reprogramming funds and other budgetary tools until next year when supplemental funds will be passed.