CAMP ROBINSON, Ark. - As the partial government shutdown nears the end of its second week, the Arkansas National Guard announced the furlough of 82 additional state employees Friday.
The total number of furloughed employees is 376 state and five federal employees.
"I want the public to understand that the Guard is not back to business as usual," said Maj. Gen. William D. Wofford, The Adjutant General for Arkansas, "As each day passes our readiness levels degrade and our furloughed employees continue to suffer."
These employees perform critical functions that include: fire rescue, public safety, security, facility maintenance, administrative, water treatment and sanitation functions across the state. Arkansas Air National Guard state employees at the 188th Fighter Wing provide fire rescue support for the Fort Smith Regional Airport.
A temporary plan has been implemented to continue fire rescue at the airport.
Furloughed employees are partially or entirely reimbursed through federal funds. The Arkansas National Guard is primarily funded by the federal government; however, many of the federal obligations are first paid by the state and later reimbursed through federal cooperative agreements. This includes most utilities at installations and facilities across the state.
"The state cannot continue to bankroll federal obligations," said Wofford, "If the lapse in federal appropriation continues we may have to begin cutting utilities at most of our facilities across the state."
Earlier this week employees were directed to shutter facilities with a low occupancy, turn lights off in their offices, if there was sufficient ambient light, unplug appliances, and limit the use of all HVAC systems.
The partial shutdown continues to impact all of the nearly 10,000 Arkansas National Guardsmen across the state. Traditional Guardsmen not only lose a paycheck for October, but the impact on training and individual readiness will continue to have ripple effects for months to come.
"The second and third order effects of this on our Soldiers is tremendous," said Command Sgt. Maj. Steven C. Veazey, Command Sergeant Major for the Arkansas Army National Guard, "We have canceled schools for over 70 Soldiers, there are limited seats for many of these schools and this will undoubtedly create a backlog that could last for months if not years. These Soldiers need this training to remain proficient in their jobs and for career progression."
A lack of federal funds to purchase fuel and parts is impacting the serviceability of the Arkansas National Guard's fleet of vehicles and helicopters. There are enough parts on hand to continue scheduled services for equipment through the end of October. Parts for unscheduled services and repairs are limited. The restriction on fuel has grounded all helicopters for training purposes. Over time this will impact the flight rating of Arkansas Army National Guard pilots.
Communities are beginning to feel the economic impact on the Guard as well. The Professional Education Center (PEC), a National Guard Bureau training institution located at Camp Robinson, trains the entire full-time Army National Guard workforce from all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia. Last year PEC trained nearly 30,000 students, and hosted over 6,000 conferees at their campus. PEC has canceled courses, due the lapse in federal appropriation and the furlough of nearly 140 of the 376 Arkansas National Guard state employees.
"We have a lot of challenges," said Wofford, "my primary concerns are for the welfare of our employees, their families and the impact this is having on our readiness."
Over 13,000 Arkansas National Guardsmen have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. During the same period the Arkansas National Guard responded to over 300 emergencies here at home.
The Arkansas National Guard can be called into a state active duty status to respond to an emergency if needed. The longer the partial shutdown continues, the longer that response time may be. However, if called upon the Guard will be there.