WASHINGTON — Thousands of civilians at Oklahoma's military bases may have to be furloughed, while training and maintenance would have to be curtailed to the point of affecting preparation for critical missions, according to an analysis prepared for Sen. Jim Inhofe on the potential effects of looming budget cuts.
Inhofe, of Tulsa, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview Tuesday that the analysis presents the worst-case scenario for Oklahoma's installations.
But he said the threat from the cuts set to be triggered in early March is real, not only to Oklahoma installations but to bases around the world.
Inhofe said he is planning a presentation Wednesday to an influential group of Republican senators about the potential impacts of the cuts, known as sequestration, in hopes that his colleagues will back his effort to prevent them.
The budget cuts are the result of the debt-ceiling agreement reached in the summer of 2011. In all, more than $1 trillion in reductions, spread out over 10 years, are scheduled to go into effect, with the Department of Defense bearing about $500 billion.
President Barack Obama and congressional leaders were expected to negotiate a compromise sparing the military from the disproportionate cuts, but that hasn't happened; the cuts were delayed for two months in the “fiscal cliff” agreement approved last month.
Pentagon leaders have been warning the cuts would be devastating and have been urging Congress to act; the military branches have been asked to develop plans for absorbing the cuts to minimize the effect on conducting the war in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other leaders have said furloughs are possible, along with cutbacks to training and maintenance.
Tinker Air Force Base — which has about 14,000 civilians and a wide range of missions, including aircraft maintenance at its massive depot — has not been told yet to institute furloughs or cut back on aircraft repair work.
Tinker and the other bases that are part of the Air Force Materiel Command have been ordered to implement a civilian hiring freeze and release temporary employees that aren't considered “mission critical.” The bases also have been told to curtail travel and flying that is not critical and to limit purchasing.
The analysis, prepared for Inhofe by Republican staff on the Senate Armed Services Committee, predicts far more serious consequences if the automatic cuts go into effect as currently structured.
At Tinker, according to the analysis, the civilian workforce would be furloughed; fewer aircraft would be able to complete depot maintenance, affecting the entire Air Force fleet and increasing the risk to flight operations; flight tests would be delayed; and base hours would be reduced.
At Fort Sill, the U.S. Army post that is home to artillery training, up to 6,000 civilians could be furloughed; training would be reduced, as would the graduation rate of students, posing a risk to combat operations; maintenance and equipment upgrades would be deferred; and base hours would be reduced.
At Altus Air Force and Vance Air Force Base, more than 2,300 civilians combined would face furloughs and flight training would be curtailed, raising the risk to flight operations, the analysis says.
At the Army Ammunition Depot in McAlester, up to 1,700 employees would be furloughed and fewer weapons would be procured, according to an analysis.
A study released last summer by the Aerospace Industries Association estimated Oklahoma could lose nearly 8,000 defense-related jobs if the budget cuts went into effect and 16,000 total jobs.