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Sequestration is Here

Assistant SECNAV and MCPON Talk About the Impact

The following is a conversation All Hands Magazine had with Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Juan Garcia about the effects of sequestration now that it is here.

AH: Obviously sequestration is a reality now. In terms of Sailors, civilians and families, what does it mean for them?

Assistant Secretary Garcia: Let's start with the impact on families. Sailors need to know that the way the legislation is constructed the manpower accounts are fenced off, so Sailor pay will not be impacted.

For the civilian component, critical to our team, there's no way we'd be where we are in OIF, OEF ten years into the longest sustained combat operations in American history without the backing, the support, and coordination of our civilian component of our team. Their pay will be impacted. Sequestration continues to go forward. We've been forced to enact a series of furloughs that will likely start at the end of April. Navy leaders throughout the fleet have been advised and continue to be advised with the latest information on how this will play out. But we need folks to, when they have questions, to go to the [Department of the Navy], Human Resources FAQ,, where there's, as we speak, over 80 questions addressing pieces like this, to make sure they have full information so they and their families can plan going forward.

AH: In terms of some of the things you've been hearing through the grapevine, if you will, what are some of the rumors or pieces of misinformation that you kind of want to clear up and set the record straight?

Assistant Secretary Garcia: Thanks for raising the question. As you know, while sequestration officially triggered March 1, the furloughs themselves, should they go forward, will not happen until late April. That's a function of some notification requirements, both the Congress and the unions, to the individuals themselves.

Because sequestration is triggered it is not a given that furloughs will happen. You know the department leadership is doing everything we can to not have to take this step. But it's important that personnel and their families plan in the event it does happen.

AH: What's the next significant step in this challenging budget environment we're working with right now?

Assistant Secretary Garcia: There are a couple of significant deadlines in the very near future. Presuming sequestration cannot be ended and that we go forward and have to resort to furloughs, individuals are guaranteed to receive at least 30 days' notice. We suspect that will happen in mid to late March.

March 27 is when the continuing resolution is scheduled to end. Should that impasse not be resolved, the government would go into closure which would add significantly to what's already a challenging scenario.

Individuals will receive, as I said, a minimum of 30 days' notice and then they'll be personally notified a day before sequestration.

Those are the next big immediate hurdles as we move forward.

AH: What's some of the advice that's being shared with commanders on how to kind of handle communicating this issue with their Sailors and their Marines?

Assistant Secretary Garcia: One of our biggest concerns is that over the last few years personnel have got into this rhythm of these near-miss government closures. And consciously or subconsciously they may think hey, this happens all the time. Someone blinks at the end; we don't have to worry about it.

Sequestration furlough is different. This is, should it go forward, this will be the first time in department history we've had to resort to what they call an administrative furlough process. Also it's important to note that historically when there have been government closures the entire force has gone home for some period, Congress has afforded back pay. There's no reason to think that's going to happen in this case.

So as personnel and their families make preparations for being furloughed, what will likely be about one day per week, 16 hours per pay period over 22 weeks, they need to know and prepare themselves for that worst case eventuality and they take steps for their own personal financial planning to be able to accommodate that.

AH: What can Sailors and civilians do to maybe help the Navy through this challenging time?

Assistant Secretary Garcia: Plan ahead. Leaders across the force are planning furloughs, should it come to pass, the most optimal way to have minimum mission impact. But make no mistake about it, there's no way we can cut lose 20 percent, all of our civilian teammates for 20 percent of the time and not have that impact.

Plan. Think in terms of mission accomplishment. Look out for your shipmates and your teammates. We'll see this continue down this track - there will be stress on families. Look for those tell-tale signs. Try to focus on the mission.

As I said earlier, our FAQ section on the DONHR web site is now over 80 questions strong. Refer to that. Don't hesitate to go to your leaders with scenarios that may not have been envisioned yet.

The fact is this is a dynamic living process with a lot of questions still to be answered. The exception piece is one of those. We know from OSD guidance that exceptions to furloughs will be very narrowly tailored - things like contingencies, like civilians in a combat zone itself, or those critically required for the safety of life and property. Again, with questions go to the DON OCHR web site, raise them with your leadership.

AH: Are there any special programs or efforts to help families during this time?

Assistant Secretary Garcia: We've tried to focus on early notification, early warning and making as much information available as possible.

Today as we tape this we went out with a supplemental guidance across the Navy, across the fleet and the Marine Corps and to all of our SES network to get out to personnel. Each of the [Budget Submitting Offices] we are in coordination with each day to ensure they have the latest information. And I've referred you to the web site as well.

The key piece here, this is not the government closure near-misses that we've experienced the last couple of years. This is different. It's unprecedented. We still hope to avoid it and department leadership is doing everything they can to do so, but we need to plan for the worst case, to look out for our shipmates and coworkers and to stay focused on the mission.

AH: Can you talk a little bit about how sequestration is not just operational? It's not going to affect us just operationally, but also maybe in terms of person to person Navy interactions and daily lives.

Assistant Secretary Garcia: The real challenge of sequestration as constructed in the Budget Control Act is that it doesn't allow leadership to focus on, to prioritize goals and missions and programs. It's a flat, blunt instrument that cuts across all accounts. So support programs will be impacted. O&M accounts are probably the most immediately impacted because that's training. The manpower accounts we talked about earlier are fenced off, but everything else is fair. There will be close to a 10-percent chop across those.

You'll see that we've done everything to slow that burn rate to minimize that impact. As the president said, it will not be, the effect will not be like falling off a cliff but it will be a slow tumble. Again, leadership is doing everything we can to forestall this and prevent it.

Five Things You Need to Know About March 1

1. What happened March 1? Will I notice sequestration has occurred?
We recognize that the threat of sequestration brought significant uncertainty into the lives of our Sailors, civilians and families. That said-we need to acknowledge that the sky is not falling and that we have a mission to accomplish. There may be some cuts you notice right away or it may be months before you notice the full effect of sequestration.

We are trying to preserve flexibility and will not make final decisions about cuts until the last possible moment. We will continue to support our forward deployed forces and do our best to preserve the readiness of those next to deploy.

2. What will be the impact?
Not pulling any punches here, sequestration is going to hurt and the impacts will be long lasting. If we don't get a spending bill and sequestration is unchecked, impacts will affect our long-term readiness. We won't be able to respond to crises as the nation has come to depend on and expect from us. As the CNO has said...we won't be where it matters, when it matters.

3. What should I tell my family?
Like many Americans, we know that you are experiencing increased anxiety as a result of this fiscal uncertainty. Military leaders are deeply concerned about the impacts of sequestration on you and your families. You can tell your family that leadership cares, understands how this might impact them and that they are doing everything possible to limit the worst effects on our people-especially on family support programs. Also tell them, that we will continue to keep you informed as we get more information.

4. What's next?
We must continue to make cuts and reductions to ensure that we live within our fiscal means. We are now in execution mode. When able we will do what we can to make these actions reversible. There will be an impact-especially among our civilian workforce and families. Civilian furloughs will mean lost wages and productivity. It will also mean reduced services on our bases for Sailors and their families.

5. Does this end the fiscal uncertainty?
No. Unless and until Congress passes an appropriations bill and either fixes sequestration or gives us the ability to transfer funds within our budget accounts--we will be forced to continue cuts and reductions in order to preserve our ability to operate forward. To help alleviate some of the uncertainty and anxiety-we will do our best to keep you informed with the latest information.