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Federal Furloughs May Threaten Wildfire Response

The number of wildfires in San Diego is expected to increase as a result of climate change. In this photo, a San Diego firefighter battles flames in Tierrasanta during 2003 wildfires.
KPBS file photo
The number of wildfires in San Diego is expected to increase as a result of climate change. In this photo, a San Diego firefighter battles flames in Tierrasanta during 2003 wildfires.
federal furloughs
Federal Furloughs May Threaten Wildfire Response
GUESTSFrank Hewitt is a founder of the San Diego Chapter of the National Defense Industry Association which represents the interests of the defense industry. California National Guard Captain Will MartinJason is a civilian employee who does medical research for the Department of Defense, under the federal furlough his pay will be cut 20 percent over the next 11 weeks. He's asked KPBS not to use his last name because he is not authorized to speak publicly about the federal furlough.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: It does seem that let consumers are going to be changing the way they think about electricity quite dramatically in the future stay with us coming up next we heard about sequestration and effects continue to rollout today marks the beginning of furloughs that will cut the salaries of some civilian defense contractors by 20%. you are listening to KPBS Midday Edition I am Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. Thousands of civilian and military workers will see their projects shrink for the coming months as furloughs start this week to infect its result of sequestration the across-the-board budget cuts that went into effect this year after Congress failed to reach an agreement on the debt limit. We have here to discuss this and how it will affect our community Frank Hewitt with Intel's solutions Incorporated was a founder of the San Diego chapter of the defense industry Association. Frank, thanks for joining us. FRANK HEWITT: Thank you. ALLISON ST. JOHN: We also have an online California National Guard Capt. Will Martin Capt. Martin thanks for being here WILL MARTIN: Thanks for having me. ALLISON ST. JOHN: And thirdly Jason who is a federal defense employee a civilian who works in military research and he does not want to give his full name as he's not authorized to speak on the issue but thank you for being with us Jason JASON: Thank you very much for having me today. ALLISON ST. JOHN: So Jason, let's start with you. These furloughs are affecting you very directly, how? JASON: Well, seeing that it's a 20% pay cut and the federal pay lines for GS employees as well as WG employees waged employees, we are frozen and have been frozen at 2010 levels. So right now with the sequestration and with the 11 unpaid furlough days coming up I'm losing $1000 a month and that is my rant, and so dealing with that I've had to restructure my finances and prioritize things in a way and we all know that San Diego is not a very cost-effective place to live especially if you have a 20% pay deduction. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Right, what have you done to prepare, Jason? JASON: I've had to call my credit card companies to renegotiate terms as far as payments and arrangements. So far I've been able to kind of defer some of that so that's been kind of accepting the companies have been responsive in a positive way, student loan deferment, still working on that, there's a lot of bureaucracy involved in trying to renegotiate that. The car note, Ford Motor Company has been very gracious in renegotiating loan terms and I have a mortgage payment close that's also in the works ALLISON ST. JOHN: Renegotiating the change in the terms of your mortgage as a result of the furlough? JASON: Yes ma'am a lot of the companies I've been speaking withhave been able to renegotiate the loan itself where the payments I've been making will tack on at the end of the loan but it's going to end up costing me a lot more money in the long run trying to pay these out. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Now you're one of many people dealing with this of course but if it only lasts for three months, will you be able to weather these cuts? JASON: That is the thing is that it's not guaranteed to only be three months. It could be extended into the next fiscal year. With that being said I also had to take out a low against my thrift savings plan in order to have a buffer just in case that does happen and we have to still be in these furlough days for the next fiscal year. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Have you found that people like loan officers are sympathetic to your situation are they familiar with what's going on with the sequestration cuts for civilian military? JASON: They are familiar but some are unsympathetic to kind of want their money yesterday. ALLISON ST. JOHN: They are all business in other words. JASON: All business no personality ALLISON ST. JOHN: What about the kind of benefits some people affected by sequestration are turning to things like food stamps which for many families is unthinkable but are there any benefits you can draw on? JASON: There are no benefits to qualify for. The community assets and resources that are in San Diego are already overly exhausted so if you go into an office and they look Your overall yearly or even monthly income prior to the furlough days you are automatically they will look at you and be like what are you doing here because they will disqualify you and that's the image that federal employees are all rich, but we are not. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Okay Jason thank you for bringing your personal story and giving a glimpse of what it feels like for many San Diego. JASON: Think you so much for having me. ALLISON ST. JOHN: We will talk to Frank Hewitt now and ask you because you're the defense industry Association which is the group that is speaking for the defense contractors. The furloughs are going to affect 600 more than six and 50,000 people nationwide how many in San Diego approximately? FRANK HEWITT: Well California is the second highest in being affected in within the DOD replying to Virginia at 72,007 that's a considerable number of people particularly since the highest concentration of defense contracting and the defense and military operations here in California are in the San Diego region. So we will be the hardest hit area from a defense standpoint in the state of California. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Where do some of these folks work? FRANK HEWITT: They work in support of space and Naval warfare, systems command, the headquarters here in San Diego also has space For System Ctr., Pacific which is out on Point Loma and of course you will also have other areas in support of the military where they are based throughout the county so from Camp Pendleton all the way down to Naval base in Diego at 32nd St. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Jason made the point that many people think defense contractors are pretty well-paid, that's a well-paid job around this region. 20 percentile is a pretty hefty cut to prepare is there anything the players are doing to help support employees whether this? FRANK HEWITT: Yes except we are talking about the civil service folks that are actually government nonuniformed personnel. So it does not include contractors. We've already been affected in the reduction that is at least 20% in general companies very ALLISON ST. JOHN: This is DOD employees? FRANK HEWITT: DOD contractor employees supporting under contract ALLISON ST. JOHN: Thanks for making the distinction. FRANK HEWITT: There are two things going into effectors of those cuts have also been in place caused by sequestration not being a smart way to do this. And so but, the civil service site is what we are talking about today and they actually are government employees ALLISON ST. JOHN: Got it. FRANK HEWITT: Nonuniformed employees. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Even so federal employees are reckoned to have pretty good jobs normally, but in this case a 20% cut is quite a significant chunk of anybody's salary. Is there anything that the federal government is doing to make it easier? FRANK HEWITT: I don't know about that. The current furlough is for 11 days every Friday from this Friday all the way through the end of this fiscal year and it is a government fiscal year. So it in some 30 September so we are talking about 11 days the question is as your previous speaker has articulated very well nobody knows what 2014 is going to do but we went up on the defense contractors side there are smarter ways to do this I call it insanity of sequestration. ALLISON ST. JOHN: At least the Pentagon did reduce it from 22 days to 11 days. FRANK HEWITT: They did and that was caused by their ability to be able to move it around and take that cuts elsewhere which was considerably smarter and I'm hoping into 2014 that there will can that will continue their ways to make the cuts for example if we get things like streamline acquisition. Larry Farrell who is the president of the national Defense industrial Association and DIA in Washington has a nice article in national Defense magazine the July national Defense magazine that he writes a column and he thinks is Defense acquisition was streamlined across all the programs we could save 10% of the acquisition cost which is a significant cost savings. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Another way of making the cuts other than furloughing federal workers. FRANK HEWITT: That is correct ALLISON ST. JOHN: I'd like to bring National Guard Capt. Will Martin into the conversation here Capt. Martin MA National Guard are being affected the San Diego region WILL MARTIN: I can't speak specifically to San Diego but as far as statewide we have about 2000 of the military technicians who will be affected by the furlough and just about 23,000 National Guard in California you're looking at about 10% of the force. ALLISON ST. JOHN: I'm hearing about 85% of the people are getting these notices. What is the trickle-down effect for the rest of us. How does that affect us? WILL MARTIN: We are right in the middle of the wildfire seasons so the furlough couldn't come at a worse time obviously what makes the National Guard distinctive is we are emergency response force as well as military so now that we are in the middle of the wildfire season we face a huge reduction in manpower so that won't prolong preparation times as far as being able to deploy aircraft and personnel in response to wildfires and other emergency incidents ALLISON ST. JOHN: Is it actually having an effect on scheduling right now? WILL MARTIN: Yeah the sense that we had to figure out how to do more with less which is really an impossibility in coming to push come to shove and responding to emergencies are right now wildfire season isn't in full swing as far as the number of fires but as you know they are starting to kick in I expect in the near future we will start to see some effect. ALLISON ST. JOHN: What kind of reaction are you getting from National Guard members about the furlough? WILL MARTIN: A lot of them are like Jason because nobody foresees having to cut 20% of their pay overnight so a lot of the individuals are the sole providers for their house also noted significant other is having to take on a job or in the case where both of them were covered to take on another job or like you mentioned restructure various financials. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Frank was saying there's some discussion of other ways to cut the money without furloughing employees so it sounds like there is what perhaps a 50% chance that there will not be further cuts for the whole population next, starting after September when the content? FRANK HEWITT: I don't think I put a percentage on it, Allison and the reason I would diss we watched the sequestration process to date and there's been nothing logical about it at all. ALLISON ST. JOHN: So give us some specific examples, Frank, of ways that employers have made changes to adapt to the furloughs. We've heard from Capt. Martin that there are fewer people now available to help fight the fires for example, what kind of things are happening as a result of the furloughs? FRANK HEWITT: On the civilian industry side the first thing you start to look at is an executive in a company where you can make cuts and the biggest areas are in facilities and in personnel and in indirect personnel as defined with direct labor or indirect labor. Indirect is not under contract and its administrative support. ALLISON ST. JOHN: For example is there less research going on. What are the actual programs being affected? FRANK HEWITT: There actually across the board because sequestration has called out cuts across the board although there is there's been some maneuverability by the DOD and to shift some money that cuts have been coming pretty much we have seen them come across the board. So, that means that you do not lay off, you lay off your personnel, you don't just put them into a furlough situation. So the companies have actually taken steps to lay off a large number of the indirect staff which is the support staff, not on contract. And they've done that proactively so a lot of large businesses have already done that and they were already doing in the December January February time frame so that puts people in the unemployment lines. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Capt. Martin is there some sense that perhaps the National Guard is facing even steeper cuts in the future as a result of the shrinking military budget?defense budget? WILL MARTIN: That's definitely a concern on our part and we are trying to make an argument that we are actually the most cost effective military force there is along with the reserve component as a whole in the sense that we are able to be called up toward those times that we need to go overseas and fight donations battles but we are also able to do that on a much smaller budget we cost about one third of the active-duty counterparts cost but were on the same team but at the same time reduce fiscal constraints we prefer that we be seen as a fiscal solution instead of something that can be cut. ALLISON ST. JOHN: You are talking about 2000 people. How much of their time is spent on things like fighting fires just as we enter the fire season? WILL MARTIN: The majority of those officials are the folks that keep them National Guard running we talk about aircraft maintenance, human resources administration the folks that guard the basis that sort of thing these are actually the individuals that keep the National Guard running Monday through Friday so that the traditional guardsman who commit one night a month for traditional planning and emergency or war can do their job so the majority of the individuals being impacted by the full-time staff that keep us running. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Frank, you mentioned aircraft maintenance this is a pretty big issue isn't it a lot of the aircraft maintenance by the aircraft in San Diego is done by civilian employees. FRANK HEWITT: That's correct and by uniformed military personnel also, ship maintenance, the same thing so it's kind of like the oil filter analogy pay me now or pay me later. So as the maintenance is deferred that has impacts in terms of force. Both the Fleet Marine force and the Navy fleet did John range averaged crafty and shift so it's going to reduce our readiness capability to respond to the military's readiness to respond. Some of the things so that we need to consider in the commercial world, the civilian world the first thing you start to look at his facilities, but in my defense wrote the Congress has taken broad-based realignments and closures off the table so even though DOD may want to downsize its facilities in order to save money. Then allocated to people they are not being allowed to have the option on the table as an example. ALLISON ST. JOHN: We have had an unprecedented period of military spending and perhaps now is the time to be scaling back on defense-related spending. Isn't this for largest part of that whole process? FRANK HEWITT: It is but we can do it in a smarter way. There's also been a civilian DOD hiring freeze in place, so you can take care of it by normal attrition of retiring workers. That said, when Adm. Vern Clark the former CNO was here in San Diego for SD Mac panel last fall the question was asked of him as to what he thought the DOD budget ought to be as we downsized in answer to your question, and his answer was $500 billion per year. That is down from the mid $700 billion per year, so it is about a third cut, and we are not talking about a base budgetwe are talking about a full DOD budget which would include the funds allocated for our wars and not just the DOD budget but with augmented spending in order to fund war fighting for the wars. So needs to come down to about a half 1 trillion a year so that is a significant cut and that is what we are looking forward to as we move forward and it is not a pretty picture. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Well I think we are going to have to leave it there. As you said it's not a pretty picture and certainly for the people that are actually experiencing the 20% pay cut they must be hoping that some other solutions will be found by the time the end of the three months comes around. I'd like to thank my guests Frank Hewitt of intelli-solutions, the founder of the San Diego chapter of the defense industry Association and National Guard Capt. Will Martin. Thank you Capt. Martin. WILL MARTIN: Thank you for having me. ALLISON ST. JOHN: Stay with us some of Shakespeare's plays translate beautifully onto the silver screen others not so much. We will hear about how Much Ado About Nothing goes about it right after this break. You are listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I am Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. If you love Shakespeare you have a lot to celebrate right now. The summer Shakespeare series has begun at the Old Globe and a new screen adaptation of William Shakespeare's much ado about nothing from Joss Wheaton has just hit movie theaters. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando and Shakespeare scholar Ken Keeline discuss Wheaton's film as well as what makes for a good Shakespeare adaptation on today's Midday Movies.

Thousands of civilian military workers will see their paychecks shrink by 20 percent for the next three months. Federal furloughs start this week.

It's the result of sequestration, the across-the-board budget cuts that went into effect this year after congress failed to reach an agreement on the debt limit.

The Department of Defense needs to cut $85 billion this fiscal year under sequestration. Federal furloughs are expected to save that department $1.8 billion this year.


Some civilian military employees say the furlough is affecting their ability to pay the bills.

Jason is a civilian Department of Defense employee doing medical research in San Diego. He's asked KPBS not to use his last name because he is not authorized to speak publicly about the federal furlough. He says he had to renegotiate his car loan and credit card payment because of the furlough.

California National Guard Captain Will Martin says it's not just the National Guard employees who will be affected by the furlough.

He says the trickle down effect on all Californians is the Guards' ability to respond to wildfires and other emergencies including conducting search and rescues .

Frank Hewitt is a founder of the San Diego Chapter of the National Defense Industry Association, which represents the interests of the defense industry.


He says the military will also feel an impact from the furlough from the lack of civil service workers.

Hewitt says compacting sequestration cuts over a shorter period of time this year is having a greater impact.

"This is a 10-year event," Hewitt says. "In 2014 the budgets will be cut for 12 months. How they are going to do it remains to be seen," He says.