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Despite furlough day reduction, uncertainty remains for 2014 fiscal year for Fort Drum civilian employees

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FORT DRUM — The furlough days for civilian defense workers on post may have been reduced from 11 days to 6, but there is little certainty for what will come next in the next fiscal year starting in October.

“This is nice, and we can take a breath, but there’s more problems around the corner,” said Jeffrey W. Zuhlke, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 400. He called the resolution a “temporary reprieve” for the approximately 1,800 workers on post who had their paychecks cut by at least 20 percent for each of the weeks they have had one unpaid leave day since early July.

The furloughs have also reduced access to on-post services for soldiers and their families. The reduction in furlough days was announced yesterday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The furloughs will end the week of Aug. 18.

“We’re happy that they’ve reduced them, but we’d be happier if they never implemented them in the first place,” Mr. Zuhlke said. “This was a self-inflicted injury in an attempt to make political points, and they put that on the back of federal employees.”

The furlough days, the result of federally mandated budget cuts better known as sequestration, were reduced due to savings found by the military.

As part of $500 billion in cuts going into the next decade, the Pentagon will have to reduce up to $54 billion from current spending totals for the 2014 budget year, which starts Oct. 1.

Military leaders, including Mr. Hagel, have said in recent weeks that more civilian worker furloughs and possibly layoffs were possible if the funding cuts were not changed.

“That’s the barrel we’re staring down for the next fiscal year,” Mr. Zuhlke said. “Without the repeal of sequester, that’s where we’re going to go.”

Major reductions in personnel levels and units in addition to long-term reductions already taking place have also been discussed if larger financial cuts are deemed necessary.

“It’s a scary time to be an employee, it’s a scary time to be around the service,” Mr. Zuhlke said.

The only way to end the sequester is congressional action on the budget. However, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said he did not see anything on the horizon that indicated a solution was imminent.

“Unless people start acting responsibly in both parties to get this done, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “Right now, we don’t have people who are acting responsibility.”

He said blame for the issue didn’t fall solely on Republicans or Democrats.

“It’s an us problem,” Mr. Owens said. “All of us have responsibility. We all have to be thinking how can we do things that effectively cut government spending but don’t do it in an indiscriminate and irresponsible way.”

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