As a federal law enforcement officer who oversees about 600 federal workers – the majority of whom have faced furloughs and a 20 percent smaller paycheck due to sequestration cuts – I’m privy to the struggles these hardworking people are facing, the rippling impacts on the community, and the toll it’s taking on our workplace at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut.
As Department of Defense workers, we are extremely dedicated to the work we do each day. Our troops count on us to keep them safe and the country’s defense running smoothly. In the workplace these cuts impacted morale, and many of my employees feared they would not be able to fully complete their daily tasks when they were out one day a week.
So far, federal workers have taken furloughs on the chin with the understanding that our mission comes before ourselves. However, when faced with unpaid furlough days in the double-digits, many were forced into difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible decisions when it came to choosing between family and putting their best foot forward at work.
Most of the workers I oversee are GS5 to GS8 and make under $50,000 per year. They haven’t seen a raise in more than four years despite the rising cost of living. So you can see how this summer’s 20 percent cut in take-home pay would cause personal stress. At one point, our base even partnered with the local food pantry to help the furloughed workers.
The stress of sequestration goes beyond the pocketbook. On the base, some of our employees were stuck working in buildings with heat over 100 degrees and facing dangerous health conditions due to broken air conditioning units. If it breaks, it’s weeks – if not months – before it’s repaired because it’s no longer a priority.
Safety on base is also a rising concern, as police and security measures are being cut and we’re losing talented staff. In the last three years, we’ve lost forty police officers on our base alone because the salaries weren’t competitive. We invest lots of time and money into training these officers, only to have them leave for better paying jobs outside of the government. Sometimes it seems like our base is a revolving door, which in my view from a security post is straining our ability to keep things running safely and securely.
Over the past few years, media and politicians have painted the federal workforce into something that it is not – bloated and wasteful. In reality federal workers are just regular, hardworking Americans trying to serve our country and communities. We’ve always found ways to stretch taxpayer dollars as far as they’ll go – but we about at the breaking point.
We’ve voiced our concerns to our elected and appointed officials in Washington and had small victories. Earlier this month, Secretary Hagel announced that civilian defense workers would only be furloughed 6 days this year instead of 11.
To us, our families, the small businesses and communities that rely on our support to keep local economies afloat, these are small victories on the path to the ultimate goal: to restore federal employees’ abilities to do the jobs we’re passionately committed to for a country – and a mission – we love.
Fears run high on base still as Congress tries to pass next year’s budget. How many furlough days should the 650,000 Americans who work for the Department of Defense brace for next year? What will happen if a furnace breaks in January like the air conditioner in July? Will we be able to do our jobs to the fullest and defend our country?
We need a permanent budget plan from Congress that stops sequestration and ends the personal and professional damage it is causing on military bases across the country and around the world.
Faulise is a federal law enforcement officer at the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut.