McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

March 5, 2013

Furloughs set to begin at McAAP

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — Now that the federal sequestration budget cuts have gone into effect as of Friday, McAlester Army Ammunition Plant employees are expected to start getting letters on Monday telling them to get ready for furloughs.

“The employees know there’s a recommendation we will be furloughed one day a week,” said McAAP spokesman Kevin Jackson.

He said McAAP employees would be notified after the Friday deadline had passed. However, since most employees are off work Fridays, the letters were expected to go out on Monday unless Congress and the White House reached an agreement over the weekend to change the situation.

If furloughs are ordered as expected, will they go into effect immediately? “I believe it would probably be in April,” Jackson said. That leaves open the possibility that the furloughs could be averted if Congress and the president act to change things during that time frame.

Sequestration refers to the approximately $85 billion in budget and domestic spending required by the end of the current federal fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2013, as well as the $1.2 trillion in cuts required over a 10-year period.

Meanwhile, District 2 U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, says the situation could have been different if the two political parties would have worked together.

“Today marks the beginning of the across-the-board spending cuts called the sequester,” Mullin said in a statement released Friday. “It is unfortunate that in Washington, nobody can agree to make the spending cuts needed to replace the sequester.”

Mullin also spoke with the News-Capital by phone about how he believes the cuts required by sequestration could have been found in other areas. He said he’s seen reports that the federal government made $115 billion in improper payments in 2011, the latest year for which the numbers were available.

“The federal government made $115 billion in improper payments or benefits they were not entitled to,” Mullin said. Yet, there’s been no attempt to recover the money, he added. “That is more than sequestration itself, and no one’s talking about it,” Mullin said.

Mullin also said the White House and President Obama received $60 billion in new revenue after the new Congress took office in January.

“He already spent $57 billion on Sandy the first week we were in session,” Mullin said, referring to disaster relief for the East Coast areas hit by the devastating hurricane. “What we’re doing now is sitting around and pointing fingers at each other, messing with real peoples’ lives,” Mullin said, referring to those who will be most impacted by sequestration.

He also said House members last week had met to see if they could come up with alternatives. “We can find money in other places. Do we want to pursue that? You never know if it’s going to happen,” he said.

In the days leading up to sequestration, Mullin said he and his staff were in contact with McAAP’s leadership “We have talked to the colonel several times,” he said. “Several people from unions came up here.” Despite the meetings, it’s still unknown how many ways McAAP will be effected if the sequestration measures go into full effect.

“There isn’t a good grasp” of what could happen, Mullin said. Congress will next face the issue of passing a continuing resolution to keep the government funded. “With the continuing resolution vote, we’re going to give flexibility to the military to make its own decisions,” Mullin said — a reference to letting the military service chiefs decide where the cuts would cause the least harm.

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff came together and that’s what they’re asking for,” Mullin said. Even if that occurs, Mullin concedes it won’t solve the problems caused by sequestration. “That’s making the best of a very bad situation,” Mullin told the News-Capital. He addressed the issue further with a statement released from his office.

“The threat of a sequester should not be used as a tool to raise taxes, but instead as a mechanism to prompt smarter spending cuts — to take a good hard look at what in government is working and what is not,” Mullin said. “A more targeted approach to spending cuts would benefit defense facilities like the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant,” he said.

“The direct hit on defense programs is not a good method for this country. The ammunition plant is an extremely unique facility that performs a mission critical for this country’s national defense and it should not be subjected to a one-size-fits-all budget cut.

“The McAlester Ammunition Plant employs over 1,000 people in Pittsburg County alone, according to plant information,” Mullin said. “Employees at the plant also live in Atoka, Hughes, Pushmataha and other surrounding counties. The effects of these across-the-board cuts will be felt throughout the Second District. “I recently had the chance to visit the plant and saw first-hand the great work they do,” said Mullin.

“While Washington gets caught up in the blame game and throws big numbers around, what too often is forgotten are the real-world consequences that these cuts will mean to the families and the local communities.

“For the employees of the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant and for people across this country, the campaigning for higher taxes needs to stop and the hard work of making smart budget decisions needs to start — immediately.”

He also referred to the expected upcoming continuing resolution vote.

“With the continuing resolution vote, we’re going to give flexibility to military to make its own decision,” he said. “Oklahomans have seen through the ratcheted-up political rhetoric coming from both the White House and Congress. They are ready for the dysfunction to stop and for this country to get back on stable fiscal footing by making common-sense cuts to federal spending that do not threaten public safety, national defense or the economy.

“The higher taxes President Obama is campaigning for will not help our businesses, families or the economy. However, spending cuts and staying on course to a balanced budget will help Oklahoma taxpayers who have already been hit by spiking gas prices and an increase in the payroll tax. “There is plenty of waste to be trimmed from the federal budget,” Mullin said.

“The free cellular phone program that has angered a number of callers to our congressional offices will cost $2.2 billion in 2013 alone, not to mention the money we have already spent on the program that our federal government has no business funding in the first place.

“Clearly federal spending is out of control and it is not difficult to find more savings for taxpayers, but that will require strong leaders who are willing to look past their next election, putting party aside and putting country first,” said Mullin.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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