Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) questions witnesses during a hearing in Washington, D.C. The Alaska congressional delegation objected to the Air Force's plans to cut 232 civilian positions in their state. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Alaskan lawmakers on Tuesday objected to the Air Force's plans to cut 263 civilian positions in their state as part of a wide-ranging restructuring.
Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young said in a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that cutting those civilians would ultimately harm military families who, in isolated Alaska, rely heavily on services provided by the Defense Department's civilian employees.
"The unique nature of the military in Alaska — specifically our isolation, large installations, multitude of missions, and regular deployments — demand adequate civilian staffing levels to ensure continued mission readiness, community morale, and high-quality installation services," the lawmakers wrote. "Although quality base services are important everywhere, Alaska's remote location makes them even more critical. We cannot afford the hugely negative impact undercutting base support services would have on our military members and families."
The Air Force earlier this month offered a second round of buyouts and early retirements open to about 4,500 civilian employees. Last week, Air Force officials briefed lawmakers on the roughly 6,700 positions that would be cut in two stages — the first was announced last November — and which bases would lose employees.
The Air Force plan calls for eliminating 222 positions at Alaska's Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, a 10 percent reduction in the workforce; and 41 positions at Eielson Air Force Base, a 7 percent reduction.
Democrat Begich and Republicans Murkowski and Young also said that as the Pentagon turns its focus to Asia as part of its new defense strategy, Alaskan air bases will become increasingly important. This posture shift also make civilian employees in Alaska "even more crucial to ensuring continued mission readiness," the lawmakers said, and should be kept in mind as the Air Force considers further civilian cuts.
The Air Force has stressed that it wants to avoid involuntary reductions-in-force, or layoffs, by first offering voluntary buyouts and early outs. The Alaskan lawmakers today urged the Air Force to do whatever it can to avoid RIFs, such as by training employees whose jobs are disappearing for other duties, or transferring them to open positions.
"An across the board reduction-in-force to achieve the reduced number of billets is not an acceptable solution," the lawmakers wrote.