The impact of furloughs on Fort Detrick’s 1,350 Army civilian employees reaches beyond their wallets.
Workers such as Matthew Diggs face a forced day off without pay each week through the end of summer because of sequestration.
Diggs, of New Market, works for the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency in medical logistics. His first furlough day is scheduled for Friday.
Diggs called the furlough “a raw deal” brought on by lawmakers who will not feel the deep cuts caused by what he called Congress’ “nondecision.” With less money coming in over the summer, Diggs said he, his wife and two stepchildren will likely forgo a summer vacation and possibly put off some home repairs.
“We didn’t ask to give up our salary,” he said. “In the end, it’s not even for a good cause. There’s no winner in all this.”
That sentiment was shared by Maria Gonzalez, an accountant at USAMMA. She and her husband, who also works on the post, also face their first furlough day Friday. The couple traded in a sport utility vehicle for a smaller sedan that uses diesel, cut out cable TV and made adjustments to income tax and retirement benefit withholdings.
The couple’s nearly year-old daughter will spend a day less in day care each week for the next couple of months, but that wasn’t enough. Gonzalez tried unsuccessfully to get a discount during the furloughs.
“We’re being penalized because Congress couldn’t budget,” she said. “Now I have to change my lifestyle.”
As civilian Detrick employees brace for the immediate effects of salary cuts, workers outside the post’s gates said it is hard to forecast what the furloughs will mean to them.
Shamim Ahamad, manager at Poblano’s Grill on Rosemont Avenue, said business has been OK so far this week. With most of the restaurant’s customers coming from Detrick, he is “a little bit worried.”
The dining room at Rocky’s New York Pizza on Oppossumtown Pike was half full for lunch Wednesday. Business has slowed since the post reduced hours at a security gate near the restaurant in April due to financial concerns unrelated to sequestration, owner Ester Burr and manager Laura Jorden said. The women worry about the impact of fewer Detrick workers who also have less money to spend, they said.
The dining room overlooks a new, larger gate under construction that was scheduled to open in the fall. Construction delays now mean the gate won’t open until spring 2014.
Jorden said she plans to write a letter to a post commander about the loss of business but doesn’t yet know what it will say.
“I haven’t drafted it yet,” she said.
Employees can expect longer lines for many services on the post as furloughed employees log their unpaid absences, Detrick spokeswoman Lanessa Hill said.
Furloughs at Detrick began this week for about 990 employees at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and another 400 who work for Detrick’s garrison. They are expected to take as many as 11 days through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2013.
Pentagon officials long warned of draconian cuts as a result of the sequester, which went into effect March 1. An estimated 652,000-member Defense Department civilian workforce is likely to feel the effects, leading to savings of up to $1.8 billion. The furloughs represent a 20 percent pay cut for those employees.
Garrison Commander Col. Steven Middlecamp allowed office supervisors to work directly with staff to identify furlough days to help minimize and cushion the blow of curtailed services, Hill said. Middlecamp took command of the garrison, which functions as Detrick’s local government, in May.
“We were hoping it wouldn’t come,” Hill said of the furloughs. “It came.”
Cuts on Detrick extend to the commissary, an Army health clinic and an identification center, as well as other offices, Hill said. Mail delivery has also been stopped, she said.
An update on Detrick’s Barquist Army Health Clinic Facebook page Monday warned that reduced staffing as a result of civilian furloughs could lead to extended wait times. Its occupational health clinic is now closed on Mondays, Hill said.
People are being told to call ahead before going to the post’s identification office, which is staffed by two employees, both of whom are subject to the furlough, she said, and the post’s commissary is now closed on Tuesday, as well as Monday.
Hill and other public affairs staff are also subject to furloughs, with employees alternating between taking off Fridays and Mondays.
“I can’t spend any money,” Hill said. “All of my community relations things have to be at no cost to the government. ... We’re going to have to become very creative here to see how we’re going to do things.”
Follow Courtney Mabeus on Twitter: @courtmabeus.