FORT MEADE — For Col. Edward R. Rothstein, sequestration has gone from drill to reality.
On March 1, nearly 27,820 civilian Department of Defense workers at Fort George G. Meade, where Rothstein is garrison commander, will shift to a four-day work week and a 20 percent cut in pay.
Rothstein said Thursday the impact will be massive.
“I have to look at how this is going to impact everyone,” he said. “To understand this, I have to walk in their shoes.”
Tim Kauffman, a spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees, said the changes would affect all union members from blue-collar mechanic to top-level supervisor.
Kauffman said if the average union employee makes $50,000 a year, he would take home between $500 and $600 less after health insurance, retirement and taxes are taken out in a regular pay cycle. An additional pay cut of 20 percent could mean disaster.
“It’s having to decide, do I pay the rent or do I buy groceries?” he said.
Not everyone will be subject to the changes. Exemptions will be given to military employees and certain civilian employees including police and fire personnel.
The sprawling Army post is home to many defense agencies, the largest of them being the National Security Agency and the Defense Information Systems Agency.
Rothstein is responsible for handling sequestration cuts to his command, which includes departments that run the post. NSA, DISA and the other agencies based at Fort Meade will handle their own cutbacks.
“The department is committed to making the investments that are necessary to ensure the readiness of U.S. warfighters and the defense of (Department of Defense) networks and systems,” NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines said in a statement.
Thirty-nine percent of the Meade workforce lives in Anne Arundel County. The post is Maryland’s biggest job creator, with an economic impact exceeding $20 billion.
The Army predicts that sequestration will cost the state $527 million from its operations alone.
Defense contractors, which make up 26 percent of the Meade’s workforce, are also bracing for sequestration.
Linthicum-based Nothrop Grumman, Anne Arundel County’s largest civilian employer, already has downsized its workforce. Last week, the company cut an additional 60 jobs. Before that, it offered buyouts to 280 employees.
Northrop Grumman spokesman Randy Belote said the company anticipated the economic downturn five years ago and took steps to remain competitive.
In a Jan. 11 memo to the heads of all military departments, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered units to prepare for cuts. The automatic budget cuts, which were originally scheduled to take place Jan. 2, would have slashed defense spending by nearly $500 billion over 10 years.
If a deal isn’t reached in Congress by March 1, weekly furloughs days would begin in late April and continue for 22 weeks.
From an operational perspective, Rothstein plans to focus funding toward health, safety and quality of life on the post.
He anticipates basic services will be cut back severely.
“If we don’t have enough security guards to work the gates, I’ll close that gate,” he said.
Rothstein is focused on getting Meade through the end of this fiscal year on Sept. 30. His tour as garrison commander ends in August, and the Army has not announced his successor.
The installation has recently continued to grow. On Wednesday, ground was broken on a $72 million apartment complex designed to allow more than 1,400 unmarried service members to live on the post.
Construction is also under way to build a new Post Exchange, which will house an Apple store.
Funding for these projects comes from public-private partnerships.
In fiscal 2012, Rothstein had to cut his garrison staff by 21 percent.
To do that, early retirements and buyouts were offered. This time around, Rothstein said, that will not happen.