The Air Force budget would be slashed up to 10 percent and key Wright-Patterson Air Force programs could face major reductions if across-the-board, automatic defense budget cuts outlined Friday by the White House take effect in January.
“We’re going to have to wait and see the hard decisions they make and how they distribute cuts, but with that severe a reduction, it’s going to be painful,” said G. Scott Coale, former vice commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory and a past leader of the Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association.
The cuts, part of a budget mechanism known as sequestration, would be triggered if Congress fails to resolve an impasse over debt reduction.
“If sequestration is triggered, the department would be forced to cut $55 billion in 2013 in an across the board senseless manner,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
The Office of Management and Budget report provided a hint at what some of the fallout might be: $2.7 billion to Air Force research and development; $4.2 billion to aircraft and other unspecified procurement programs and $4.2 billion to operations and maintenance.
Wright-Patterson plays a major role in each of the areas slated for reductions. It is home to the Air Force Materiel Command, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Between them, they have crucial roles in research, development, test, evaluation, procurement, maintenance and operations.
The cuts have the potential to have “an enormously disruptive effect on Wright-Patterson to perform its national defense mission,” said Michael Gessel, vice president of federal government programs at the Dayton Development Coalition.
Defense programs without an annual congressional appropriation would face a 10 percent cut, while the non-exempt discretionary budget would be reduced by 9.4 percent, the report says. Military personnel are exempt, although defense leaders have said civilian ranks could be slashed.
Unless the White House and Congress act to avert the reductions, the cuts would total about $500 billion over the next decade. That would come on top of the $487 billion in cuts already agreed to by Congress and the Pentagon.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, has estimated roughly 4,000 to 5,000 jobs could be lost in the Miami Valley if the automatic trigger happens.
The Aerospace Industries Association has projected two million job losses nationwide, but a study from the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., has called those estimates “deeply flawed.”
The cuts wouldn’t just hit Wright-Patterson, said Sundaram Narayanan, executive director of the Wright State Research Institute.
The institute has a more than $100 million research budget, funded mostly through federal grants. Significant federal cuts “could have a huge impact,” he said.
“It takes years to build things and it takes just a few months to destroy it,” he said. “If you lose talented people it’s going to take you years to recover … and it’s not a good thing.”
Miami Valley defense contractors were reacting cautiously to the uncertainty for months, fearing the worst.
“We’ve been wringing our hands about what may lie ahead,” said David Waite, vice president and business manager at Dayton Aerospace Inc., an acquisition advising firm to government and private agencies.
Companies that rely on federal contracts haven’t been able to plan ahead, said Deborah Gross, executive director of the Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association. “That’s not good for business growth,” she said.
In recent years the Air Force and the defense industry have added thousands of jobs on and off base, said Phillip L. Parker, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, and some defense contractors have already begun to cut back.
“I think it will actually hamper the growth we’ve seen inside the fence at Wright-Patt and outside the fence perhaps leading to the loss of jobs and a commitment not to increase jobs like we’ve seen over the last five years,” he said.
The Air Force and Wright-Patterson had no immediate comment on the OMB report.
“It would be some time before we know how that would impact us at Wright-Patt,” base spokesman Daryl Mayer said.
A bipartisan super committee’s failure to reach a deficit reduction deal to reduce spending by $1.2 trillion set in motion the automatic cuts as a way to pressure federal lawmakers to find a solution. Both President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans have called on each other to compromise to avert the consequences.
Congress passed the Sequestration Transparency Act last month to ask the White House to detail more specifically where the cuts would fall. The reductions span not only defense, but broad areas such as law enforcement, environmental protection, and education funding, among other areas.
More possible cuts will outlined in the weeks ahead.
Ohio lawmakers reacted with alarm to the potential fallout.
Turner, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the reductions “would be absolutely devastating to both jobs and our national security.’’
Turner warned that Wright-Patterson and the Lima Tank Plant would “be indiscriminately slashed by nearly 10 percent.’’ He urged President Barack Obama to “come to the table and negotiate with Congress’’ on a package to avoid the steep reductions.
Turner’s Democratic opponent, Sharen Neuhardt of Yellow Springs, said Congress needed to “get its act together” to reach a bipartisan plan and said her opponent has backed “unnecessary tax cuts” for the wealthy and companies. “What we need is a balanced approach, that reduces our deficit without crippling important programs for our military,” she said.
The same finger pointing occurred Friday between U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and his Republican opponent in the Senate race, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel.
Meghan Dubyak, a spokeswoman for Brown, said the senator
“remains committed’’ to working with Democrats and Republicans to “produce serious solutions that reduce the deficit and cut spending’’ while avoiding the automatic spending reductions that are scheduled to begin in January.
Mandel said Friday that Brown “voted for the policies that have created this mess … That’s why we need to balance the budget by cutting wasteful government spending and growing the economy.’’
Jack Torry and Jessica Wehrman of the Washington Bureau contributed to this story.
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