Created on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 Written by LISA CORNWELL,Associated Press
CINCINNATI (AP) — U.S. Sen. Rob Portman visited Ohio's largest military installation on Monday to discuss the potential impact of anticipated defense spending cuts on the base, where officials have said most of its 13,000 civilian workers are expected to face unpaid leave if the cuts aren't averted.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, talks with media after visiting Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Dayton, Ohio. Portman visited Ohio's largest military installation to discuss the potential impact of anticipated defense spending cuts on the base, where officials have said most of its 13,000 civilian workers are expected to face unpaid leave if the cuts aren't averted. (AP Photo/Dayton Daily News, Chuck Hamlin)
Portman met with officials at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton to gain information on the expected effects, if Congress and President Barack Obama's administration fail to avert the cuts that are scheduled to start automatically on Friday. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said most of the military's 800,000 civilian workers could be forced to take unpaid leave.
Portman told base officials Congress is "working hard" on the issue, Col. Cassie Barlow, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson, said in a telephone interview.
The cuts loom amid a standoff between Obama and Republican leaders over whether to offset cuts with other cuts alone or cuts and increased taxes.
In an emailed statement, the Republican senator blamed out-of-control spending, not a lack of revenue, for budget deficits.
But he also said across-board spending cuts would "have a detrimental effect on our national defense," and he would like to "give the administration the flexibility to target the spending cuts so as not to blindly gut the military and hamper operations."
The Obama administration has said that about 26,000 civilian Department of Defense employees in Ohio would be furloughed, reducing their total wages by about $161 million. Funding for Air Force operations in Ohio would be cut by about $3 million and Army base operations in the state would be cut by about $1.9 million, according to White House figures released Sunday.
Barlow said that most of the base's civilian employees are expected to face furloughs. She said exemptions have been requested for employees such as medical and fire personnel, but that number is probably less than 100.
Barlow said it will be tough to operate the southwest Ohio base where civilians make up about 60 percent of all its employees.
"To go through the furloughs and take the reductions we are looking at, that is critical," she said.
Barlow said she hopes there will be some flexibility allowed in arranging the furloughs so not all employees would be off within a particular office on the same day.
Base officials say the furloughs of 22 days would start in April.
The president of the local American Federation of Government Employees union did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday.
Barlow stressed the impact will go far beyond the workers and the base.
It also will be "devastating" to surrounding communities, Barlow said.
The city manager of Riverside, which is adjacent to the base, said Monday that his community definitely would be affected.
"I would like to believe that Congress is going to have this issue resolved in time, but we are prepared to weather the storm that would result," said Bryan Chodkowski.
He said the furloughs would reduce income tax received by the city by about $65,000 and restaurants and other businesses that rely on the workers' spending also will be affected.