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Marine 3-star: Furloughs, budget cuts creating equipment maintenance backlog

Oct. 3, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Sandblast Shop saves the Corps thousands of dollar
Daniel Jackson, a sandblaster on Product Plant Barstow, Marine Depot Maintenance Command, sandblasts an amphibious assault vehicle to a white metal finish for the paint shop, May 24. The Sandblast Shop works on most of the equipment that is brought into PPB. (Lance Cpl. Norman Eckles / Marine Corps)
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Budget cuts and worker furloughs are causing big delays at Marine Corps maintenance depots, where tens of thousands of pieces of equipment are awaiting repair before they can be shipped back to Marine units.

Lt. Gen. William Faulkner, deputy commandant for installations and logistics, told a congressional panel Wednesday that the Corps’ ability to reset equipment from Afghanistan had already been impaired this year by budget cuts that included six-day furloughs for most civilian workers. He said he foresees additional setbacks with the long-term cuts known as sequestration and the indefinite government shutdown brought on this week by lawmakers’ inability to find compromise on federal spending.

In those six days of inactivity, spread across the summer months, workers fell behind schedule by 1,200 pieces of equipment, whose maintenance will be delayed, Faulkner said.

Some 21,000 principle pieces of equipment remain in Afghanistan, Faulkner said.

“The longer term impacts [of sequestration], quite frankly, is that deferred maintenance and that readiness — like a tsunami over time, it’s just going to gain,” Faulkner said.

Faulkner said it is vital that Congress continue funding for overseas contingency operations, money that also covers depot maintenance and equipment reset, into fiscal year 2017. That will ensure the Marine Corps can process battle-worn gear and return it to the fleet, he said.

“If we don’t continue to receive those OCO funds well into 2017, then in fact we’re going to have to take from our base budget, which is already insufficient to fix our reset,” Faulkner said. “So where we’re going to see the impact is in readiness.”

According to Marine Corps planning documents from February, more than 2,000 Defense Department civilians faced furlough earlier this year in Albany, and some 1,200 at Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif.

According to Marine Corps officials, the effects of the shutdown are lesser, with about 900 civilian workers furloughed at Albany and Barstow.

Here too, Faulkner said, the long-term effects of the shutdown could prove more damaging than the near-term.

“Words like disruptive and unfortunate don’t even begin to address the impact of this shutdown on our Marine civilians. More descriptive words such as disrespectful are more appropriate,” Faulkner said. “These are loyal patriots. The only difference is they don’t wear the cloth. But many of them have been serving the Marine Corps longer than I have and so to treat them like this, send them home, sends a poor signal in terms of how much we value what they have given to our country, and so that’s really disconcerting.”

Faulkner said he fears that a number of senior civilian officials qualified for retirement would “walk,” given this treatment, leaving critical skills gaps in the command.

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