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Army cut to civilian workers, McHugh says

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WASHINGTON — The Army will soon announce more reductions in its civilian workforce, even as the service trims more than 8,000 positions by the end of this year.

Army Secretary John M. McHugh told a House subcommittee that officials are about to announce where additional cuts in civilian end strength will occur as the Army and the Defense Department scale back to save money and adjust to the end of combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Right now, we’re trying to right-size the civilian work force,” Mr. McHugh, the former north country congressman, told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense at a hearing Wednesday about next year’s proposed budget.

The Army is already cutting 8,700 positions by the end of this year. The secretary gave no indication how many more positions might go and said Army officials have begun to brief senior congressional staff.

The possible impact at Fort Drum is unclear. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said he has received no information but said he is concerned about how cuts might affect programs at Fort Drum as well any economic impact on Jefferson County.

Typically, Mr. Owens said, civilians constitute a hefty portion of the work force in morale, welfare and recreation programs, for instance.

Fort Drum has already absorbed about a fifth of the civilian cuts across the Army, said Jeffrey W. Zuhlke, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 400 at the post. But if the Army slashes as many 30,000 civilian slots, as some employees fear, Northern New York could be in trouble, he said.

“If they push for those additional reductions, it’s going to be really painful,” Mr. Zuhlke said.

The lost responsibilities are not likely to be picked up by contractors, Mr. McHugh suggested.

Responding to questions from Rep. Bill C.W. Young, R-Fla., Mr. McHugh said the Army always has a need for contractors but that the service is trying to reduce them as well.

The reduction in civilian workers coincides with deeper cuts in the uniformed service. The Army plans to reduce active-duty end strength by 80,000 by the end of 2017.

Both cutbacks reflect a reversal from the expansion of the past several years. In the past eight or nine years, the Army added some 30,000 civilian positions, said Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.

Mr. McHugh also expanded on the cuts in the uniformed force. The Army, set to shrink by at least eight combat brigades, could lose an additional five combat brigades if Congress fails to reach a deficit reduction deal. In that case, sequestration, deep across-the-board cuts, will take effect, he said.

More civilian work force reductions would come as well, Mr. McHugh said.

“It would be a huge problem,” Mr. McHugh said.

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