'Expectation is not ... 100 percent': 10th ABW commander discusses potential furloughs

Col. Tim Gibson conducts a town hall meeting to discuss furloughs of civilian employees in the Air Force Academy's Arnold Hall Theater March 11, 2013. Nearly all of the Academy's 1,500 civilian employees will be affected by the sequestration furlough, scheduled to take effect in April. Gibson is the 10th Air Base Wing commander. (U.S. Air Force photo/Don Branum)

Col. Tim Gibson conducts a town hall meeting to discuss furloughs of civilian employees in the Air Force Academy's Arnold Hall Theater March 11, 2013. Nearly all of the Academy's 1,500 civilian employees will be affected by the sequestration furlough, scheduled to take effect in April. Gibson is the 10th Air Base Wing commander. (U.S. Air Force photo/Don Branum)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- As potential furloughs approach for nearly all of the Air Force Academy's 1,500 civilian personnel, the Academy will have to sacrifice a portion of its mission, 10th Air Base Wing Commander Col. Tim Gibson said in a series of town hall meetings March 11-12.

"The expectation is not to do 100 percent of the mission," Gibson said. "Commanders are going to have to make some very hard decisions."

Appropriated fund civilian employees will receive notices regarding their furlough status from their supervisors when appropriate. They will have one week to respond, verbally or in writing, with any information they'd like to share with their supervisors, Gibson said. Employees will be made aware of final decisions prior to the furlough implementation date.

Furloughs directed by sequestration will begin April 26, Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale said in a town hall at the Pentagon March 11. The furloughs will comprise 22 discontinuous days, or 176 hours for full-time employees, through September.

"The idea," Gibson said, "is for us to manage this as we would our annual leave program. In other words, not everyone has the same days off unless that makes sense for your particular mission area. "

However, another type of furlough may take effect sooner if Congress does not pass a continuing budget resolution by March 27, Gibson warned. In that event, the Academy would initiate furloughs as part of a government shutdown.

"The way this would work is, everyone shows up on the 28th," Gibson said. "If you're going to be furloughed, you'll find that out in the first few hours of the duty day."

A shutdown furlough would affect roughly two-thirds of the Academy's civilian workforce, Gibson said. Those personnel would not report for work until after Congress passed a continuing resolution, though Congress has in the past compensated civilian employees for work lost. Detailed plans were reviewed in December and will be reviewed again this week.

Gibson said civilian employees should not, under any circumstances, work on furloughed days.

"We know we've got an extremely important mission here. We have folks who are committed to that mission," he said. "Really, when you're on furlough, we need you to be on furlough. Don't work from home. Don't telecommute. Don't check your Blackberrys when you're on a furlough day. Those things will actually get the Air Force Academy in more trouble in the long run.

"The key is to plan ahead and to cover ... the critical mission requirements that are out there," he added. "You cannot try to conduct business as usual. This is clearly not business as usual. We are not expected during this timeframe ... to perform at the same level of mission accomplishment as we would if everyone was available. We're going to have to choose something less. Choose wisely. Plan ahead for that."

The Antideficiency Act forbids government agencies from spending more money than is allocated to them or spending money from other fiscal years during the current fiscal year. Violations in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 totaling $908 million stemmed from misspending money on contracts, according to Government Accountability Office reports, but employees who work on furloughed days also violate the law, Gibson said.

"If someone volunteers to do work, and they're not authorized by an appropriate authority to do work, that can really get the government sideways," he said.

The sequestration furlough also prevents civilians from earning overtime or compensatory time off, although civilians who normally work on Sundays or at night would still receive premium pay for that time, Gibson said. Even civilians who normally work extra hours to meet mission requirements are limited to no more than 32 hours per week.

Anyone who fears they will have trouble paying their bills with 80 percent of their paycheck should speak with representatives at their bank or credit union as soon as they can, said Brad Barnes, the chief financial officer for Air Academy Federal Credit Union.

"It's important to talk to someone ... before you get in trouble," Barnes said. "Talk to someone sooner rather than later."

Civilian employees may seek employment on furlough days with permission from their supervisors, Gibson said. The Joint Ethics Regulation governs restrictions on outside employment. Civilians and supervisors may also freely discuss furlough schedules.

Air Force guidance leans toward taking full days rather than partial days for furloughs in order to reduce employees' commuting costs and to prevent potential Antideficiency Act violations, said Clint Lock, the Academy's chief of civilian personnel. The government and local union have agreed to suspend alternative work schedules during the furlough.

The furloughs don't affect military personnel, and Airmen should not be expected to make up the productivity lost due to furloughs, Gibson said. However, a government shutdown might be a different story: Service members were warned in April 2011 -- the last time the government faced a shutdown -- that they would "experience disruptions" in pay but were expected to continue to report for duty during a government shutdown, according to a memorandum from Air Force senior leaders. Service members worked with pay during the government shutdown in 1995.

Because the Academy controls its own construction budget, it could defer sustainment and restoration projects in order to keep cadet training programs active, Gibson said. The U.S. Military Academy and U.S. Naval Academy don't have that option, as their budgets are regionally controlled.

As a result, sequestration has hit the Naval Academy especially hard. Naval Academy leaders have canceled 15 international program trips scheduled for spring break, according to a March 6 article in the Capital Gazette, and has also cut midshipman summer training, Gibson said. West Point cadets will have to wait longer for dormitory renovation and construction, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Furloughs will affect 1,500 employees at the Naval Academy and 1,300 employees at West Point.

Another bright spot for the Academy has been the positive working relationship between leadership and the local civil service union. Although Hale said unions cannot bargain not to undergo furloughs, they can bargain as to how the furloughs take effect. Gibson said that bargaining has been productive.

"Does that mean the government is getting everything it wants? Absolutely not. It just means we're having productive discussions that are hopefully going to minimize the impact across the board, not just on the mission but on the employee."

The Academy has already taken several steps to reduce costs. The 10th ABW slashed its budget for temporary duty travel by 80 percent, Gibson said. All TDY travel must now be approved by Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould.

Gibson stressed that supervisors and employees must work together and be flexible as the effects of sequestration make themselves known.

"We don't know what we don't know," he said. "Reality's going to have a vote."