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Published March 14, 2013, 02:42 PM

Defense Pay Cuts Could Affect 2,000-Plus in North Dakota, Minnesota

A proposed furlough of Department of Defense employees could mean a 20 percent cut in pay for thousands of employees of Grand Forks Air Force Base and of the North Dakota and Minnesota National Guards.

By: Christopher Bjorke, Grand Forks Herald

A proposed furlough of Department of Defense employees could mean a 20 percent cut in pay for thousands of employees of Grand Forks Air Force Base and of the North Dakota and Minnesota National Guards.

The cuts would fall on roughly 300 civilian employees at the base, according to a base spokesman Wednesday.

In the North Dakota Guard, 680 full-time employees paid by the federal government would be affected; in the Minnesota Guard, it’s 1,169 employees, according to the guards’ spokespeople.

Officials from Minot Air Force Base did not respond to an inquiry by press time Wednesday.

As part of the mandatory federal budget cuts known as the sequester, the Defense Department proposes to put civilian employees on a one-day-a-week unpaid furlough, cutting out two days from each pay period, starting April 21 through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

“We’re like a lot of others, we’re waiting for guidance from the Department of Defense,” said Capt. Dan Murphy, spokesman for the North Dakota Guard. “The decision to furlough employees has not been made yet.”

Readiness issue

The biggest threat posed by the furlough would be to the Guard’s readiness and ability to respond to natural disasters or other emergencies, Murphy said.

“Were we to flood, heaven forbid, this spring, we would be able to respond but it would be a delayed response,” he said.

The Minnesota Guard said in a statement that the furloughs have “the potential to influence the readiness of our service members, equipment, facilities and training.”

Grand Forks base commander Col. Tim Bush, in a statement provided by Chief of Public Affairs Tim Flack, said the air base wing “will continue to fully support all operational missions tasked to the Grand Forks Air Force Base despite sequestration impacts.”

Variety of jobs

“If a furlough is directed, we expect the majority of our civilian employees would be impacted,” Flack wrote in an email. “Those employees work in a wide variety of jobs across the base, from human resources to finance, office administration to civil engineers.”

“Only a few of the 800,000 civilians across the Department of Defense will be exempt from the furloughs,” he wrote.

The North Dakota Guard employees affected are also responsible for duties across the spectrum of the Guard’s activities, including public affairs, government relations, training, equipment maintenance and other needs, Murphy said.

A regional example would be instructors at the Camp Grafton Training Center near Devils Lake.

“It’s really going to be a cross-section of all the functions,” he said.

Those affected include 400 in Bismarck, 225 in Fargo, 60 in Devils Lake and 15 in Grand Forks, according to Murphy. A one-day-a-week furlough would cost them $2.6 million.

Affected Minnesota Guard employees make up 54 percent of the agency’s full-time work force spread throughout 63 communities in the state, the Guard said in a statement.

Regional Guard facilities in Minnesota include armories in Thief River Falls and Crookston.

Tuition suspension

Another result of the federal budget cuts affecting the Guard is the recently announced freeze on tuition assistance for members of the Guard and Air Force.

The Air Force announced its decision to freeze tuition assistance Tuesday, following similar decisions by the Army and Marines.

According to Flack, 835 students from Grand Forks Air Force Base used tuition assistance for 2,200 classes in fiscal year 2012 and 600 had used the assistance so far in fiscal year 2013.

For the National Guard, 840 members in North Dakota had used the assistance last year, according to Murphy. In Minnesota, that number was 1,621.

“North Dakota is in the top 10 of all states utilizing the tuition assistance program,” Murphy said.

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