A federal commission that could reshape the Air Force took a firsthand look Monday at the impact of sequestration at Wright-Patterson and the ties between active duty Air Force, Air National Guard and reserve forces at the base.
The National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force toured the largest single site employer in Ohio, meeting with military and civilian leaders of commands and rank and file airmen as the panel prepares to recommend how the future “total force” should balance the number of personnel and equipment in all service branches. A report is due to President Barack Obama and Congress by Feb. 1.
“It’s great for us to be able to see the facilities, but the people were the real objective,” said Commission Chairman Dennis McCarthy, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general and a Columbus lawyer.
While on a bus tour of the base, three commissioners of the eight-person federal commission had a classified briefing at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, met leaders inside the Air Force Materiel Command headquarters, the 711th Human Performance Wing, and the Air Force Reserve 445th Airlift Wing, among other places. They sat inside a giant C-17 Globemaster III cargo jet flight simulator at the 445th Airlift Wing and observed a centrifuge that will operate in the months ahead at the 711th Human Performance Wing.
“There’s no question this is a massive base,” McCarthy said. “There’s a tremendous number of organizations co-located and one of the takeaways I think is the synergy that comes from having as many and as diverse organizations co-located at the same base.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Harry “Bud” Wyatt, a former Air National Guard commander and commission member, said Wright-Patterson was “very important” to the Air Force as a whole.
“This obviously is a very important piece of real estate,” he said.
Congressional lawmakers and the White House appointed the panel after members of Congress balked at an Air Force proposal to cut Air National Guard and reserve forces more deeply than active duty forces last year.
Wright-Patterson base commander Col. Cassie Barlow said base leaders outlined the collaboration of active-duty, reserve and Air National Guard units and the impact of sequestration on the base and employees.
The furloughs of about 10,000 civil service employees one day a week that began this month have impeded job productivity, she said.
“They took away the fact that we’re having a really hard time fitting everything into 32 hours a week,” she said. “They also took away it’s a huge impact on our civilians.”
Wright-Patterson employees will lose about $40 million in wages because of the 11-day furlough scheduled through September.
Base leaders outlined maintenance cutbacks postponed until the next fiscal year at the earliest, she added.
Commission member Janine A. Davidson, a George Mason University professor near Washington, D.C., and former Air Force pilot, said the effect of sequestration was apparent.
“There’s a lot of talk in Washington and in the media about sequestration not having much of an impact, but one of my takeaways today was that it is having an impact and that the professionals and the leaders in charge of Wright-Patterson are putting the mission first and really trying to work with that,” she told reporters.
Commissioners headed to Springfield Air National Guard Base after the Wright-Patterson visit Monday, home to unmanned drone operators and intelligence analysts at the 178th Fighter Wing.
Sequestration has delayed commission visits to some bases across the nation, but a list wasn’t immediately available Monday.
The commission has scheduled a 1 to 5 p.m. public hearing Tuesday inside the Senate North Hearing Room at the Statehouse in Columbus. Commissioners will visit Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base near Columbus on Tuesday and Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base on Wednesday before their tour of Ohio concludes.