Legality of furloughs still debated

Valley residents brace for negative impacts to economy, morale

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Legality of furloughs still debatedWhile the Powers That Be debate whether the furloughs of China Lake employees are cost-effective, and even legal, civil servants and the citizens who support them ponder the effects of the massive hit to the local economy and the inevitable erosion of morale.

Last month 31 congressmen issued a challenge to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel over the legality of imposing furloughs on Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division employees at China Lake.

The letter highlighted specific laws that protect the funding of the Working Capital Group (which includes WD) from furloughs, since those entities compete for work instead being funded directly by the federal government. Based on that model, furloughs actively inhibit DOD contractors from fulfilling obligations, potentially wasting money and even presenting a liability to national defense.

China Lakers also expressed concern over the fact that Rep. Kevin McCarthy was not among those who signed the letter.

McCarthy told the News Review he was asking for a meeting with Hagel to discuss the matter. He also wrote a letter to Hagel asking for an explanation.

Shortly thereafter, Undersecretary of Defense Robert Hale wrote a response on behalf of Hagel in defense of the action. Although Hale does not directly give a legal or fiscal justification for the furloughs, he closed by saying the best way to end furloughs is for Congress to pass a balanced budget.

But McCarthy is among those who say that the letter leaves too many unanswered questions

“I continue to disagree with the undersecretary’s rationale in support of DWFC furloughs and will continue to get answers for our community,” he said in a statement last week.

“With the effect on morale and financial hardships at a time when our civilian defense employees work to support our warfighters, I call on Secretary Hagel to meet with me and my colleagues on this vital matter.”

The feedback from China Lakers does indicate agreement with Hale on one point: that a balanced budget — regardless of partisan origin— is the only thing that will halt furloughs.

Much of the unrest within the working class in the Department of Defense can be traced back to resentment of the apparent attempt of Congress to put politics before policy. Inside sources tell the News Review that they see the deeply divided Democrats and Republicans as allowing national defense to suffer in order to gain party position.

The immediate affect of the furloughs is a 20-percent reduction in pay to the largest employer in the Indian Wells Valley [estimated total loss over 11 furlough days]. But since that equates to 100 percent (or more) of the disposable income for many employees, the impact to local businesses is expected to be devastating.

While hotels have already experienced a steep decline in service from travel reductions in the last year, restaurants and other services are also now reporting anecdotal losses. Since transient occupancy and sales taxes also fund city services, many anticipate further reductions at the local government level as well.

But one of the most difficult to measure, though still significant, losses is that of the morale of a workforce that has historically stood out for its patriotism and dedication to the mission of national defense.

“When those furlough letters first went out, it wasn’t ‘O woe is me, I’m losing money,’ what you heard on base was, ‘How am I going to get the job done?’” Jerry Taylor said in a radio interview with Eric Kauffman on the Coyote last Friday — the first of the anticipated 11 furlough days.

“The culture here is one of dedication to our mission. That is why people chose to live here. And now you can’t even volunteer your time. It is literally illegal to work today.”

Story First Published: 2013-07-17