Nugent convinces House to end National Guard furloughs
Published: Sunday, July 28, 2013 at 11:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 28, 2013 at 11:14 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent was able to convince the usually divided House to reverse a small part of the government's budget cuts that kicked in earlier this year.
It remains unclear if the Senate will go along.
The Brooksville Republican, in an amendment to the recently adopted Pentagon spending bill, got unanimous support for ending furloughs affecting National Guard maintenance technicians.
Nugent said in a statement after the measure was adopted on Wednesday that while the cuts had adversely affected military training, cost jobs and forced the redeployment of defense assets from places where America's presence was critical, one overlooked effect was the "devastating and immediate concerns" for Florida's National Guard aircraft and vehicles.
Under the budget cuts, known as sequestration, some 650,000 Defense Department employees have been directed to take off one day a week without pay.
The furloughs began earlier this month and run through the end of September.
One group of them included workers called "dual-status," meaning they are federal civil servants who also serve in the National Guard.
Ron Tittle, spokesman for the Florida National Guard, said that about 1,000 Guardsmen, primarily in northeast Florida, must take off each Monday.
Included among them are technicians and mechanics who maintain the Guard's helicopters and vehicles at posts such as the Cecil Commerce Center near Jacksonville and at Camp Blanding.
The workload for these mechanics had been growing three months ago as some overseas Florida troops and their equipment began returning home, Tittle said.
Now the "cascading effect" of the sequestration means that maintenance will be further deferred, he added.
Nugent, in his comments, observed that the National Guard's efforts to save lives in a natural disaster, whether in Florida or elsewhere, depend on functioning helicopters.
"But helicopters don't repair themselves," he said. "Keeping them in the air requires constant preventative maintenance and repair. That maintenance requires the constant attention of well-trained mechanics and technicians."
That had been hindered because of sequestration and "a quirk" in the Pentagon's personnel qualifications relative to the dual-status technicians, said Nugent, whose district includes Ocala and most of Marion County.
"That was inevitably going to affect our readiness and our response capability in the event of a disaster," he maintained.
"Florida is obviously overdue for another bad storm, and the idea that we would sit on our hands and not do everything possible to make sure we're ready was crazy to me," he said.
"Fortunately I had a number of colleagues who felt as strongly as I did, and we were able to pass an amendment unanimously in the House to prevent the furloughs for these mission-critical technicians."
Gov. Rick Scott was one of three Gulf Coast governors to call on President Barack Obama to halt the furloughs earlier this month.
One problem is that the amendment sponsored by Nugent won't kick in until Oct. 1, when the new budget year starts.
That is, if the Senate can muster support for it.
Nugent noted that the Senate has not passed any of the 12 yearly appropriations bills that Congress enacts to keep the government funded.
In fact, the budget passed in March by the Senate was the first in four years to be formally adopted.
"I am very hopeful that they won't delay in addressing this issue," Nugent added.
"I'm not one for hyperbole, but in this case we literally have lives depending on getting this policy fixed — especially in states like Florida. That's not something to mess around and play politics with."