WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - More than 1,000 civilian employees at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Mo., began involuntary furloughs this week that will cost them 20 percent of their pay between now and the end of the fiscal year. Most of the civilian employees took their unpaid day this week on Friday, slowing operations at the nation's only stealth bomber base.
Some 650,000 defense jobs nationwide are affected by the furloughs, which in turn were spawned by the so-called sequester package of spending cuts and tax hikes. In Missouri alone, 7,100 civilian employees of the Department of Defense will be required to take a furlough, with an estimated economic impact of more than $23 million dollars.
"It's causing delays, it's causing inefficiencies and it's generally making life harder for those of us who do have to work," said Whiteman Air Force Base spokesman Capt. John Severns.
"When I arrived there were zero people in my office. I was the first one here, and for the rest of the day I was the only person here," Severns said, "The two civilians in my office are furloughed."
Operations related to the B-2 stealth bomber program at the base were spared the brunt of the cuts, but with civilian firefighters and other base personnel sent home, even that unique program could be affected.
Off-base, the cuts to workers' salaries could have a negative impact even on those without a direct personal connection. The amount each worker could lose depends on their current pay scale, but one senior civilian employee, with more than a decade of experience on base, said the furloughs will cost him $3,000 in all.
"We're gonna make it through, but it's no different from anyone else in this country, going to reach into your bank account and take money out of it," the employee said, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals for discussing the furloughs with the media.
Linda Miller, who opened a barbecue restaurant in Knob Noster just this May, said she worries that base employees tightening their belts might bring a lunch, rather than visit her restaurant for brisket sandwiches.
"That could be a big impact because people are going to have to cut corners somewhere to feed their families," Miller said.
"We opened thinking that we've got all this potential here, you know we've got help to pay and we've got overhead expenses," Miller said, "It's not maybe anger, but its frustration."
Congress must act to lift the furloughs. Military officials are hopeful that they do so at the end of the fiscal year on September 30th. They know, however, that there is no guarantee of congressional action.