BELLEVILLE — More than 1,300 civilian employees of the Illinois National Guard and Air National Guard -- including 230 workers at Scott Air Force Base -- will likely be taking 14 days of unpaid furloughs this year because of the federal budget sequester, a guard spokesman said.
The furloughs are set to start in mid-June, said Capt. Dutch Grove, the spokesman.
"The exact directive and how it's going to work out hasn't been written in stone and disseminated down the line," Grove said.
No matter the impact, though, the Illinois Guard's senior leadership has emphasized that "we're just going to work hard in order to prioritize our manpower, our funds, our property, our equipment on hand to ensure we continue to meet our critical missions," he said.
Details of the furloughs' probable impact have not yet worked their way to the 126th Air National Guard Refueling Wing, which is stationed at Scott, according to Col. Pete Nezamis.
"We do not know in detail or in general how budget cuts caused by the sequester will affect 126 ARW operations," Nezamis wrote in an email to the News-Democrat. "We have not received guidance or information on specific cuts and it would be inappropriate to speculate at this point in time as to how our operations will be affected."
Once guidance is received, "the 126th Air Refueling Wing will work within the parameters of that guidance to prioritize operations to maintain readiness," Nezamis wrote.
Earlier in the year, Nezamis announced that the 126th Air Refueling Wing, because of the expected impact of the sequester, had been forced to cancel unnecessary travel, trips to conferences and to turn down requests for aircraft "flyovers" of pubic events.
"So these steps that we're taking now have everything do with the budget being frozen at last year's levels, and in some cases was reduced in some areas," Nezamis said in January. "So we have roughly seven months left to make up the shortfalls."
The wing has 150 active duty personnel, 350 full-time Air Guard members and 550 part-time Air Guard members.
The issue of National Guard furloughs is a sensitive topic for Guard units nationwide. Late last month the National Guard office at the U.S. Department of Defense accidentally transmitted premature furlough notices to thousands of Guard employees in 21 states and territories, including Alaska, Arkansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin, but not to Illinois.
The continuing resolution the U.S. Congress approved in late March delayed the onset of furlough days and reduced their number by two.
But other impacts to Illinois Guard units have already been felt, in the form of reducing flight hours and delays in obtaining repair parts, Grove said.
"Reduced flying hours for our air guard pilots and our army guys, helicopter pilots," he said. "And over time that degrades our proficiency and the amount of flying hours that a pilot needs to log, and the take-offs and landings that a pilot needs in order to be current."
In addition, the Illinois Guard will need to prioritize the ordering of repair parts, while "some things that come up today with a broken part may go to the bottom of the list. And as time goes on that list may get a little longer."
The federal sequester took effect March 1. It originally sought to trim about $85 billion from the federal budget's overall discretionary spending, with about $46 billion of that amount coming from Defense Department agencies. A key provision of the sequester exempts active duty military personnel and almost all entitlement spending, including Social Security and Medicare.
The sequester was approved by President Barack Obama and Congress in August 2011 as a way to force Democrats and Republicans to work out a compromise aimed at cutting the nation's $16 trillion public debt. Since both sides failed to reach a compromise, the sequester automatically took effect.