Cuts could hit maintenance area at Robins harder than expected

wcrenshaw@macon.comFebruary 13, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- The impact of pending automatic cuts for Robins Air Force Base may be greater than previously expected.

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer said last week the cuts set to take place March 1, barring an alternative agreement in Congress, would mean the Air Force maintenance budget would be cut by one-third through the remainder of the fiscal year.

That means the pain felt in the maintenance area at Robins could go beyond the 22 furlough days that had been projected for civilian employees, said retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon, former commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center.

McMahon said Air Force plans to halt maintenance on many aircraft could mean additional furloughs or even layoffs in the maintenance area, which makes up the bulk of operations at the base.

“If the workload is being reduced to save money, the real savings would come in not buying the spare parts and not spending the money on those who would accomplish the work,” he said. “The only way you can accomplish that is not paying those who do the work. Realistically, that’s the only way you create the level of savings they are talking about here.”

McMahon is now president of the 21st Century Partnership, a community group that works to support the base.

If Congress does not come to a budget agreement by March 1, that would trigger $500 billion in cuts to the military over the next 10 years. Spencer said that by March 1 the Air Force will have spent half of its $11 billion maintenance budget for the fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. That would leave about $5.5 billion on March 1, and sequestration would cut that by about $2 billion.

The result, he said, would be work stoppage on 150 aircraft and 80 engines across the three depots. Robins maintains and manages the C-130, C-5, C-17 and F-15. McMahon said all except the C-5 were included on a list of planes on which the Air Force is most likely to halt maintenance. However, he said he expects the maintenance stoppage will be spread evenly across the three depots.

In an e-mail, base spokesman David Donato said there are no current plans to furlough or layoff civilians, but the 22 days of furlough could come if sequestration goes through. Those would occur between April and September.

“If sequestration occurs, some depot-level maintenance activities will be deferred or canceled,” Donato said in the e-mail. “This could impact a wide variety of aircraft and weapons systems which Robins routinely repair and overhaul. Air Force officials are exploring a number of scenarios the impacts of sequestration would have on a variety of weapons systems.”

Spencer gave a dire warning of what the maintenance cuts would mean for the military.

“Not only will this have a significant impact on aircraft available to fly missions, it will also drive a ripple effect through our depots that could take five years or more to recover,” he said in a media roundtable Feb. 7.

Through voluntary early retirement incentives, the base is looking to cut 300 jobs, primarily in the maintenance area, but Robins officials said that is unrelated to the current budget uncertainties.

McMahon said additional furloughs and layoffs are more likely in the maintenance area because that is funded through a separate working capital fund that is based on workload, and the amount of personnel is routinely adjusted based on the expected workload.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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