By 1st Lt. Stacy Glaus
21st Space Wing Public Affairs Office
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Department of Defense appropriated fund civilian employees begin a government-mandated furlough beginning Monday for up to 11 weeks.
Civilian employees will have one furlough day without pay each week for 11 weeks between July 8 and the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. A furlough of one eight-hour day per week equates to a 20 percent reduction in pay over the furlough period for impacted civilian employees, for those who normally work 40 hours per week.
“I have made this decision very reluctantly, because I know that the furloughs will disrupt lives and impact DOD operations,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in his directive memorandum to the services.
For those working and doing business on Peterson AFB, the civilian furlough also means a potential change to customer service hours and availability.
Furlough Impacts to 21st MSG
“We’ve tried to find a balance between meeting the needs of our civilians who will be facing furlough, and the needs of our customers,” said Col. Chuck Arnold, 21st Mission Support Group commander. “The reality, however, is there will be unavoidable impacts associated with the furlough.”
Of the approximately 2,785 civilians who received furlough notices at Peterson, more than 500 of them are from the 21st MSG, which is approximately one quarter of the entire group’s population. The loss of subject matter expertise is Arnold’s biggest concern.
“Many of the group’s civilians have experience and are the subject matter experts,” said Arnold. “This cannot be duplicated during furlough days, which is especially true in one-deep positions.”
After hours and weekend support is also a concern for Arnold. One squadron facing this challenge is the 21st Communications Squadron. The 21st CS has already eliminated the telephone operator mid-shift and suspended official mail delivery on Fridays. The Official Mail Center will be open for customer pick-up only.
Outside the telephone operator and the mail delivery, however, is the challenge of responding to communications outages during evenings and weekends.
“My network engineers are civilians and have knowledge and experience that cannot be duplicated,” said Arnold. “If we lost communications or voice networks after hours or on the weekends, we’ll have to rely on our blue suit (military) communications maintenance personnel who simply don’t have the training or experience to quickly resolve some of the complicated issues we could face.”
Other areas will be unable to provide weekend after-hours support as well.
For example, during the recent Black Forest Fire, 21st Force Support Squadron personnel manned the Emergency Family Assistance Center, which provided critical resources to Airmen and families affected by the fire during and after duty hours. The 21st Logistics Readiness Squadron also provided weekend support to the 302nd Airlift Wing. Under furlough, civilians will not be able to provide this type of weekend support.
The 21st MSG will also see weekday impacts as well.
“Every one of my squadrons will be impacted in some manner” Arnold said.
Other examples of local squadron-level impacts include:
• 21st Contracting Squadron: The 21st CONS is staffed primarily by civilians resulting in longer contracting action timelines and a challenging end-of-year close out.
• 21st Security Forces Squadron: The 21st SFS will continue to meet all required emergency response times, however, furloughs will limit training day opportunities and ultimately erode 21st SFS capability.
• 21st Logistics Readiness Squadron: The 21st LRS is working with Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station and Schriever Air Force Base to reduce shuttle runs. After hours and weekend transportation will be limited as well.
• 21st Civil Engineer Squadron: The 21st CES will see increased routine maintenance response times, to include heating and cooling systems. Emergency response to base fire alarms and environmental incidents will not be impacted.
• 21st Force Support Squadron: The 21st FSS’s Military Personnel Section, including ID card issuance, will see extended wait times. Some services, such as civilian personnel actions and emergency passport processing, may not be available during furlough days. Non-appropriated funded programs, such as the fitness center, golf course and The Club will remain unaffected.
• Commissary: The commissary will be closed Mondays starting July 8.
Furlough Impacts to 21st MDG
The 21st Medical Group will also face impacts as a result of the furlough.
“We are doing everything we can to minimize disruption to our beneficiary population, but the furlough will affect all areas of patient care delivery,” said Col. Michael Burke, 21st Medical Group commander. “We are working to balance furlough days among employees of critical areas such as pharmacy, bio-environmental engineering and family health in order to provide continuous, uninterrupted coverage.”
Longer wait times and decreased availability is also a concern for the 21st MDG.
“Our customers may also see longer wait times at the pharmacy, laboratory and radiology, in addition to some limited routine primary care appointment availability,” said Burke. “But we will ensure our patients receive they care they need.”
As necessary, patients with urgent healthcare needs may see increased referrals to other TRICARE Civilian Network providers off base.
In addition to the daily patient operations a few of the medical group’s specialty services will be affected including:
• Health and Wellness Center: The HAWC will close every Friday during the furlough.
• 21st Dental Squadron: The Dental Clinic will have to limit surgical capabilities one day per week, however, there is enough flexibility in the daily schedule to compensate for this closure.
• TRICARE Operations and Patient Administration: The Beneficiary Counseling and Assistance Coordinator will be unavailable to patients on Fridays. The BCAC educates eligible beneficiaries regarding military entitlements for medical and dental care in the clinic.
“Despite the significant impact the furlough will have, the medical group’s patient-centered medical home stands ready to meet all of our patients healthcare needs in a timely manner,” said Burke.
Patience is key
Base officials ask all base patrons to be patient with customer service areas.
“We just ask that customers understand there will be impacts and service delays during furlough,” said Arnold. “We’ll do our best to mitigate these impacts, but the reality is the civilian workforce is a vital part of the group and we simply have no way of replacing their productivity and expertise during furlough.”
When in doubt, customers should call before going to a customer service area without an appointment. For assistance in finding a phone number to a customer service area, base patrons are encouraged to call the base operator at 556-7321. For specific medical clinic concerns, contact the 21st MDG patient advocate at 556-1060.