By Nate Smith
Washington Times Herald
WASHINGTON — The hardest-hit area in Indiana by the $85 billion budget sequester that takes place Friday will be close to home at Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane.
According to figures released by Sen. Joe Donnelly, the base will lose $36 million in funding, the most in the state.
“We know how critical the work they do is,” Donnelly said. “The work they do is directly related to the cybersecurity of our nation and our men and women in the armed forces.
“To all the Crane workers, we know how critical everything you do is.”
Although it is not official, many employees are worried about mandated furloughs that will take a day’s work from many. NSWC Crane is the third-largest employer in southwest Indiana, employing over 4,500 in the base alone.
Several employees, like the Kettinger family in Shoals, rely on Crane for their livelihood. Both work for contractors that help in various base functions at the third largest naval installation in the world.
“Everything is very uncertain at the moment,” Traci Kettinger said. “If we don’t get altogether, just the furlough with hours being cut would result in a major pay (cut) in our household.”
Kettinger also said she is “praying for it not to happen.”
According to official word from Crane, furloughs have not happened. Yet.
“I wish I could say,” Pamela Ingram, public affairs officer for NSWC Crane said. “We don’t know how we will be directly affected.”
Ingram said the official word will come from the Pentagon. If the furloughs are implemented, pay cuts will be at 20 percent. The cuts will start in April and continue to the end of the fiscal year in September.
“I don’t think anyone actually knows yet, because it has never been done before,” Ingram said.
Also unsure is the impact on programs Crane offers. The naval operation offers support in electronic warfare, strategic missions and special missions. Ingram said because many of the projects come from the Pentagon’s working capital fund, no decisions have been made on the impact.
Political leaders in Indiana and in Washington D.C. are watching closely on what to see what happens. At the statehouse in Indianapolis, a press secretary to Gov. Mike Pence said his administration will replace sequestration with responsible cuts.
“Because we continually work hard in Indiana to make government more efficient, we are confident that our affected agencies - including the Indiana National Guard - can manage through the sequester reductions,” the statement said.
On the federal level, Sen. Joe Donnelly said in a conference call he wants to see a flexibility package made for the defense cuts, giving the Pentagon the discretion to make the cuts where they want them, instead of across-the-board cuts.
Such action, Donnelly said, would help Crane. The junior senator said he has talked with Adm. Jon Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations. The two were part of a tour of Crane last December with Sen. Dan Coats.
“(Greenert) said to me ‘Look, I understand and the Navy understands that Crane is a crown jewel,’” Donnelly said.
Sen. Coats said in a statement he voted against the original sequester bill because it “falsely assumes that all federal programs are equal and therefore all programs should be cut equally.”
“A more responsible way to govern is to separate the essential functions of government from the programs that are duplicative, unnecessary or unaffordable to find ways to reduce spending and save taxpayer dollars.”
Coats went on to say President Barack Obama should agree to “responsible, targeted alternative spending reductions.”
In the House, Eighth District Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Newburgh, released a list of things to know about the sequester and said the House passed two funding bills to take the place of the sequester. Bucshon has said President Barack Obama has resorted to scare tactics, but he is waiting like many others.
“We do not know for certain what the cuts will entail for any organization specifically until they occur,” Bucshon said in a statement. “That being said, I will continue to work closely with Crane as I have in the past to help. There is no doubt that these cuts proposed by the president are irresponsible and should be replaced.”
Another aspect of the specter of the sequester cuts is the impact of jobs at the WestGate @ Crane Tech Park. Hiring at the 1,600-job technology park has been slow while waiting for the other budgetary shoe to drop, and layoffs could be likely.
Greg Jones, interim director for the WestGate @ Crane Authority, said that many of the contractors are waiting to see what happens.