By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — If you’ve paid attention to the news, you’ve been hearing the words sequestration and furlough quite often. On Feb. 25, Col. Chris Crawford, 21st Space Wing commander, hosted two civilian commander’s calls to address how a potential furlough would affect them.
Civilians were invited to attend and ask any questions about the pending cuts in the budget.
“I want you to understand that in the big picture we cannot function without our civilians. The impact is going to be significant,” Crawford said.
Across-the-board budget cuts, otherwise known as sequestration, took effect March 1, which means civilians should be prepared for a furlough. According to Tonya Bonner, Civilian Personnel chief, beginning the end of April civilians’ work hours would be cut eight hours per week for 22 weeks, through the end of the fiscal year.
While many specific details associated with the furlough will be determined in the coming weeks, Crawford and Bonner addressed questions from civilians with the best information available.
According to Bonner, the civilian personnel office will provide a letter to each employee 30 days prior to the furlough explaining the specifics.
Civilians will be furloughed for 22 non-continuous days, or 176 hours, if a resolution is not reached to avoid the furlough. Annual leave will be accrued as normal until an employee has been furloughed for 80 hours. After 80 hours of furlough have been met, the employee will not earn leave in that pay period, meaning employees will lose two pay periods of annual leave and sick leave.
Health and life insurance and the flexible spending plan will not be affected so long as there is enough money in their take home pay to cover those benefits. Thrift savings plan contributions, if based on a percentage, will also decrease slightly. Employees are encouraged to refer to the 2013 furlough guide for further information about benefit impacts.
Bonner said the furlough is non-disciplinary. Employees cannot use any form of paid leave, comp-time or use time-off awards on furlough days and cannot volunteer to work on scheduled furlough days.
The furlough, Bonner said, is intentional in order to save money; it is not due to an emergency “shutdown” when a budget hasn’t been passed or the government runs out of money.
Crawford said leadership will work together to determine how furlough days will be assigned, while taking into consideration the mission and employee needs. The schedule may vary for different organizations.
If a furlough goes into effect, Bonner said the anticipated timeline is that proposed furlough notification letters will be sent out March 22-26. Most employees will have seven days after receiving their notice to respond and a final decision regarding the furlough will be made by April 25. If a furlough is initiated it will begin the pay period starting April 21.
Though the coming months are still uncertain, Bonner encouraged everyone to prepare as if a furlough will take place.
She encouraged employees to seek assistance from the chapel (556-4442), Airmen and Family Readiness Center (556-6141), the Civilian Personnel Office (556-4775) and the 2013 furlough guide available on SharePoint.