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It could take months to dig out from the backlog of work that went undone at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, while civilian employees were furloughed, the base’s installation commander told reporters Wednesday.
Essential operations continued during the furloughs, but routine day-to-day issues have been put on hold or taken longer to get done, said Col. Cassie Barlow is the 88th Base Air Wing Commander.
“So for instance, if someone has a work order or a simple engineering request, instead of taking two weeks to get done it might take four weeks to get done,” Barlow said at a news conference. “Certainly, if it’s an emergency, it’s water pouring out of a ceiling somewhere because of an open pipe, we’re going to get to it, we’re going to fix that.”
Going into the furloughs, base officials prioritized what critical “heart and brain”operations needed to keep running even without civilian employees, she said.
“Our ‘heart and brain’ clearly on an Air Force base has to do with our flightline, so things on the flightline absolutely come first,” Barlow said. “So if we had something that needed to get done there, it got done. Also in terms of ‘heart and brain,’ emergency response, firefighting capability, force protection, those types of things absolutely came first.”
The time it will take to address the unfinished work will vary by office, Barlow said.
“It’s hard to make up for all those hours quickly, and depending on how much work has piled up in different work sections, it may take some work sections a few weeks, it may take other work sections a few months,” she said.
On Monday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the department had enough money to reduce mandatory civilian furloughs from 11 days to 6. The furloughs became necessary when Congress failed to stop automatic cuts to defense spending in March.
Those cuts could last for a decade unless Congress and President Obama reach an agreement on other ways to find savings, but so far a “grand bargain” between the two sides has proven elusive as both remain far apart on whether to cut spending or increase taxes.
Wright-Patterson is bracing for the possibility of more budget cuts next fiscal year, Barlow said.
“We’ve taken a look at our budget in terms of, in a perfect world, what would it look like — and a perfect world would have no reductions — and then in a 10 percent reduction, what would it look like; in a 20 percent reduction, what would it look like; and then in a 40 percent reduction, what would it look like,” she said. “In this year, FY 13, ended up being a 40 percent reduction, so we’re doing that again.”