Wright-Patterson Air Force Base furloughed about 8,600 civil service employees during a short-lived federal government closure, the most at the state’s largest single-site employer since a shutdown last struck less than five years ago.
Federal employees who were furloughed or who worked during a three-day partial federal government closure Saturday through Monday will be paid under legislation Congress endorsed to end the standoff.
But many who left the job or were told to keep working during the shutdown harbor concerns it could happen once more when a short-term stopgap funding measure that reopened the government ends Feb. 8, according to Troy Tingey, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 214.
The council represents thousands of workers at Wright-Patterson.
“They’re very frustrated out there in the shops, very frustrated and worry that it could happen again,” said Tingey, who is at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and took calls from Air Force employees across the country. “… I was probably getting a call every five or 10 minutes yesterday for the first four hours.”
A shutdown ‘routine’
While this short-lived closure wasn’t expected to have a large impact on base operations, it has created instability and concern it’s now a routine, according to Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs.
“The long-term effect of this is instability in the government and one more reason for government workers to be frustrated with their employer,” he said. “This kind of thing which now happens on a regular basis makes it difficult to retain and recruit the best talent which Wright-Patterson needs.
“Because the shutdown was so short, it is not likely to have significant effects on the operations of Wright-Patterson, but cumulatively this kind of thing can be very detrimental, and it’s not just to Wright-Patterson. It’s to federal installations all over the country.”
Since September, Congress has passed four short term spending resolutions while it attempts to pass a fully funded budget that includes defense spending for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The latest impasse between Democrats and Republicans sparked a standoff that led to the shutdown.
In October 2013, a partial federal government shutdown sent about 8,700 civil service workers at the base on furlough.
“Given that a shutdown should never occur, there is no reason that there should ever be a government shutdown happening this close on the heels of the last shutdown, it’s moving to routine,” Gessel said. “Some of the federal agencies simply took their 2013 shutdown plans and implemented them.”
Air Force museum reopens
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force reopened Tuesday. The sprawling complex, home to hundreds of airplanes and an iconic presidential aircraft collection, closed after opening four hours Saturday.
Spokeswoman Diana Bachert said the museum opened at 9 a.m. Saturday and had not yet received a closure order from the Air Force Materiel Command.
Once the order was in hand, the museum closed by 1 p.m. after nearly 1,500 people had entered and scheduled activities were canceled.
By comparison, over the same three-day period in January 2017, nearly 4,700 people visited on a Saturday, 2,220 on a Sunday, and about 600 on a Monday, museum statistics show.
The museum also furloughed about 95 workers during the brief shutdown.
The National Park Service’s Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center near Wright-Patterson and the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center in Dayton shuttered Saturday and remained closed while more than a dozen staff members were furloughed.
The centers were due to reopen during normally scheduled seasonal hours Wednesday, according to acting park superintendent Kendell Thompson.
“The staff are very relieved and happy to be back at work,” he said Tuesday.