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Natick Soldier Systems Center to undergo 30 percent cut in operations if deficit deal isn't reached

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  February 20, 2013 05:20 PM

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With just over a week to go before $85 billion of federal cuts are slated to go into effect nationwide unless Congress and the White House can reach a deal on the deficit, officials from the Natick Soldier Systems Center said the proposed cuts would lead to a 30 percent cut to the base’s operating budget.

The deadline to avoid steep projected cuts is March 1.

President Obama has warned the nation that the impending automatic federal cuts would hurt jobs of essential public workers throughout the county.

The Department of Defense sent a letter of intent to Congress today stating that if the cuts go through, civilians working for the military would be forced to undergo furlough, or mandatory days off without pay.

At the Natick Center, where products are developed to make the combat experience more efficient and safer for service members, over 90 percent – or 1,644 of the roughly 1,800 employees – who conduct research, run experiments, and engineer technology for the Army would have to take off 22 furlough days this fiscal year, which comes out to one mandated furlough day per week per civilian worker, said John Harlow, a spokesman for the base.

“The research, engineering and development would continue, but instead of being conducted 5 days a week, it would be 4 days,” Harlow said. “It would take longer to do what we’re trying to do.”

The furlough days at the Natick base would be the equivalent of saving $9.78 million. Statewide, the furlough days for civilians working at various Massachusetts bases would add up to a savings of about $45 million, Harlow said.

If the cuts prevail, the Natick base would have the remaining seven months of this fiscal year to institute the furlough days.

Natick base officials would also have to halt minor site maintenance, repairs and cleaning contracts to help make up for cutting out one-third of the operating budget. The base would also tighten its belt on purchasing supplies, allocating professional development to employees, and curtailing travel for work.

Base officials cannot yet say how much money the 30 percent cut would be specifically, as financial advisors are still combing over the base’s budget today.

“The last thing they said they wanted to do was to furlough anybody, but here we are,” Harlow said, noting that the Department of Defense is legally required to give 45 days to inform Congress of their intent before instituting the furlough days. “They need to get the timing right to do what they need to do before the end of the fiscal year.”

However, Harlow emphasized that although research might be lengthier, the overall mission of the base would continue.

“They’re doing everything they can to not impact the warfighter,” he said. “At the end of the day, we want to make sure our soldiers have the advantage on the battle field.”

Harlow also said that the steep cuts could fall by the wayside if Congress reaches a conclusion before the deadline in a week and a half.

“This is a fluid situation,” Harlow said. “This could change tomorrow morning.”

Secretary of the Army John McHugh praised the Natick base last March after a first-time visit, describing the operation as enduring and valuable.

The base is also known for developing popular products like bulletproof vests, GPS systems, and Tang.

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Follow us on Twitter: @yourtownnatick, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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