WASHINGTON – The Air Force said Wednesday it plans to eliminate 9,000 civilian jobs in a cost-saving move, with more reductions to come later as part of a military-wide effort to adjust to a new era of defense spending cuts.
"We clearly understand the turbulence these and future reductions will cause in the workforce," Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said in an announcement that triggered criticism from members of Congress from states affected by the changes. Schwartz said the Air Force would try hard to achieve the job reductions through attrition and other management moves to avoid forced layoffs.
After growing rapidly for a decade, the Pentagon budget is headed for substantial reductions. The Obama administration is committed to cuts of between $450 billion and $465 billion over the next 12 years and cuts approximately double that size could be imposed depending on the outcome of congressional budget negotiations.
The Air Force did not spell out the full range of its planned job reductions but said a portion would come from a reorganization of the command that is its largest employer of civilians — the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. That command's restructuring is to be done by October 2012.
The Air Force said the Materiel Command will not be the only major command affected by the cutbacks, but it mentioned no others. It said workers "Air Force-wide" will be informed of changes in the next several days.
The announced moves will cut 9,000 civilian positions in management, staff and support at several bases. The Air Force says separately it plans to add 5,900 positions in other, higher-priority areas like weapons buying, nuclear weapons management and the expanding field of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. It offered no details on that expansion.
Brig. Gen. Gina Grosso, the Air Force director of manpower, said officials are still working on details of how to reduce by a further 4,500 civilian jobs. "There is more work to be done," to achieve savings, she said.
The Utah congressional delegation sent a letter Wednesday to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley to complain that the cutbacks could hurt Hill Air Force Base, Utah. They called the Air Force's decision-making process "secretive and subjective" and complained that it left many questions unanswered.
In the Air Force announcement at the Pentagon, Donley was quoted as saying he realized the decisions would be difficult for some to accept.
"We can't afford business as usual," Donley said.