With the very real possibility of a federal budget sequester now just days away, the potential impact on our region and the need for decisive action, cannot be underestimated. If Congress and the president continue to do nothing to resolve the impasse, automatic cuts of $85 billion will go into effect in this year's federal government spending, with approximately half of those cuts coming from defense spending.
Scott Air Force Base directly accounts for more than 13,000 jobs held by active duty, civilian, guard and reservists living in Southwestern Illinois and across the broader St. Louis metropolitan area, so any cuts that impact operations there could have far-reaching effects.
If an agreement can't be reached to avoid sequestration by March 1, one of the effects will be furlough notices that would go out to Scott's civilian employees. They have 5,000 civilian employees who work there every day, and while it remains to be seen how the furloughs would impact these civilian workers exactly, the loss of wages due to furloughs will be felt quickly by the affected employees and their families and by the businesses they support in the St. Louis region.
If we continue on the current path of inactivity, it's more than jobs and livelihoods that is at stake. The missions of Scott and our national security could be jeopardized, and that's an end result that simply isn't acceptable. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated in a Feb. 3 press interview, "If sequester goes into effect, and we have to do the kind of cuts that will go right at readiness, right at maintenance, right at training, we are going to weaken the United
States and make it much more difficult for us to respond to the crises in the world."
Scott has already been working to slow down or eliminate spending that isn't mission critical or essential, as directed earlier this year, similar to what many businesses in the region have had to do in recent years. We know that they have already implemented a civilian hiring freeze and have limited flying hours to mission-essential operations. Scott's military men and women, and civilian workers, have also canceled temporary duty assignments that are not mission critical, such as participation in conferences and training seminars. All this could have a negative impact on our military's ability to stay well-trained.
The Leadership Council understands that it's essential to our nation's future economic strength that we get our federal fiscal house in order, but Congress needs to work hard to find a balanced solution that makes sense for the longer term. Sequestration was delayed once already this year, t kicking the can down the road isn't a viable solution as it simply creates additional fiscal uncertainty that threatens our position on the world-class stage and further hurts our economy. Failure to act to avert sequestration is no longer an option. Clearly, it is time for Congress to take appropriate action to resolve the federal budget crisis in a way that avoids sequestration.
Anything less will leave our country vulnerable in more ways than we can afford.
Ellen Krohne is the executive director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois.