* Healthcare, leisure activities may be hit by 20 percent
* Planned maintenance at shipyards expected to suffer
* Firefighters worry about safety due to short staffing
By Deborah Zabarenko
WASHINGTON, March 1 From a submarine base in
Maine to a Humvee repair shop in Texas and a Navy graduate
school in California, workers in the bull's eye of U.S. spending
cuts worry not just about money, but about risking the
government's mission and sometimes their own safety.
With $85 billion in cuts set to take effect on Friday,
civilian employees of the U.S. government are struggling with
how to cope financially with an expected 20 percent cut in work
hours and pay.
"The kids won't go to the dentist, the kids might not go to
the doctor, we won't be spending money in local restaurants,
local movie theaters," said Paul O'Connor, president of the
Metal Trades Council, which represents some 2,500 workers at the
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.
They feel "frustration and anger and concern; how are we
going to make it?" O'Connor said by telephone.
Beyond the personal money crunch, O'Connor said, skilled
employees at the shipyard are worried about what they see as a
false economy imposed by Washington's across-the-board
belt-tightening: "I'm talking about planning our business."
Nuclear submarine maintenance, the main job at the
Portsmouth base, is sometimes scheduled a decade in advance.
That schedule will slip as workers are furloughed, O'Connor
said, but the base will stay open, paying for services and
security. Repairs will take longer and cost more.
At the elite Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey,
California, the sequester would hit about 1,500 faculty,
managers and union workers, but the distraction started days
before the deadline, said Pete Randazzo, an IT specialist and
local president of the National Federation of Federal Employees.
As a graduate university focused on research into U.S. Navy
and other U.S. defense interests, the school has 1,500 students.
If workers' hours are cut, classes could be delayed, sending
careers off-course if students aren't academically ready for the
next defense assignment, Randazzo said.
'LET THE MISSION SUFFER'
"There's a part of the military community and a part of the
civilian community who are saying, maybe we should let the
mission suffer," Randazzo said. "Should we just take the pain,
do the suffering and then let them see what can happen when you
do something like this, or do we go to all lengths to try and
make this completely seamless?"
For Gregory Russell, a firefighter at the U.S. Naval Academy
in Annapolis, Maryland, safety is a primary concern.
Because of the way federal firefighters are scheduled, they
will take a bigger financial hit than many government employees
in regular and overtime pay, Russell said. Sequester cuts may
also leave them short-staffed for emergencies.
Federal firefighting procedures are based on four-person
crews, he said, but that could change under sequestration. The
number of engines and firefighters dispatched could be cut back.
"I don't know how I'm supposed to function in my job safely
and efficiently, with one person doing the job of two," he said
in a telephone interview.
Lowered staffing levels also could make firefighters
reluctant to go into burning buildings without backup, Russell
At the Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Texas - the town's
main employer - as many as 2,300 employees among a workforce of
6,000 could be furloughed, said Raymond Wyrick, a Humvee
Zelda Cozart, a licensed practical nurse and union local
president at the Fort Sill Army post in Oklahoma, said anxiety
is widespread among the 2,000 employees she represents.
"Everybody's worried," she said by telephone. "They're
worried about how they're going to pay the rent when that 20
percent of your income is gone."