Budget screws tightening at Dover Air Force Base


Associated Press

Posted on January 28, 2013 at 10:00 AM

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Wartime operations: essential. Base open house: not essential. Civilian manning, maintenance, training flight hours: to be determined.

That's the Cliff's Notes version of the funding issues facing Dover Air Force Base commander Col. Rick Moore and his contemporaries across the Department of Defense. Federal spending is about to be slashed in an effort to reduce the deficit, and the Pentagon will bear half the burden.

After steadfastly refusing throughout 2012 to plan for mandated cuts it considers too deep and indiscriminate, and still focused on the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon earlier this month ordered several belt-tightening measures. Moore, who took command of Dover and its 436th Airlift Wing in August, has started to turn the screws.

On the bright side, there have been no civilian furloughs, which the Pentagon has told commanders to begin planning for, or release of temporary employees. The Pentagon has also authorized civilian hiring freezes and Dover, the state's No. 3 public employer after state and municipal governments, is following suit.

"We have not been directed to furlough any civilians," Moore said during a recent interview at the base. "But we will defer any hiring actions that are not mission-essential, not directly contributing to the war."

Moore has been told to "incrementally fund" contracts. The base will not hold an open house and air show this year, and last week cancelled an annual familiarization flight for students in a Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce leadership course. All travel related to activities such as professional development has been cancelled.

"Zero conferences, zero symposiums, zero anything that's not directly related to the mission, and essential," said Moore.

More bad news could come. Pentagon officials warn that the military is on the verge of grounding aircraft and keeping ships in port to save money. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh have said the Air Force will could face severe cuts in flying hours and maintenance. The Pentagon says all depot-level maintenance for the last six months of the fiscal year, aviation included, must be cancelled beginning Feb. 15. Base operating funding would also be a likely target.

What else Dover could lose, Moore said, remains to be seen. The deadline for Congress to eliminate the so-called "sequester" spending cuts has been pushed from the start of the year to March 1; if a deal isn't struck on Capitol Hill, the Pentagon will have to reduce spending from its fiscal 2013 budget by $45 billion over the year's final seven months. How it'll actually play out, Moore said, is impossible to say at this point.

"What we'll see, if it occurs, will depend on how those cuts are parsed out amongst the departments," said Moore. "And I couldn't even hazard a guess."

One potential area of growth was eliminated Jan. 9, when Dover was left off the Air Force's short list for initial basing of the coming KC-46A fuel tanker. Moore, however, said it doesn't mean the base couldn't be a candidate to host follow-on aircraft and units in the coming years.

"We have the ability to handle whatever mission set is assigned to us," Moore said. "And if the mission set that we get assigned is outside of our capacity, then I would expect that it would come with additional capacity."

Fiscal uncertainty aside, Moore, who previous served at Dover from 2000-2003, says the 436th is in "great shape," that relations with the surrounding community are "splendid" and that he's changed little at the base since coming aboard.

Moore said he's looking forward to the scheduled December 2014 end of the Afghanistan war because of the hectic pace the base has had to maintain in flying cargo to and from the war theater.

"We have sustained it for so long that it feels normal," Moore said. The period following the war will be a time, he said, for "reinvesting in ourselves."

That's nearly two years away. For now, the prospect of a deep cut in spending looms, and the local impact could be significant. "It could impact our ability to sustain our facilities," Moore said. "It could impact our ability ... to provide quality of life items."

But despite the doom-and-gloom coming out of Washington, Moore is optimistic.

"Our military has been through cycles like this before," he said. "We're gonna make it through this just fine. If the need comes, we'll recover from it. And we'll be fine on the other side. It may be tough between now and then but at the end of the day, we're gonna be just fine."


Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com