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Fort Drum expects to avoid worst of federal budget cuts

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FORT DRUM — The post commander sounded optimistic last week in the face Department of Defense plans for cuts amid federal budget uncertainty.

“I expect that we will continue to fund the equipment and training that our soldiers need to go do what the nation tells us to do,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, also commander of the 10th Mountain Division.

He spoke on the issue following a ceremony on post Friday formally recognizing the deployment of the post’s 1st and 2nd brigade combat teams.

The memo, issued Thursday by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, cited concerns about sequestration, which refers to the pending large budget cuts pushed back from Jan. 2 to March 2 as a part of the deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

Adding to the concern is the military’s reliance on a temporary funding measure through March 27. With no appropriations act from Congress for the 2013 fiscal year, the department is operating at 2012 levels.

Gen. Townsend said he expects the post to get hit slightly less than other installations by the budget cuts, given the current deployments and future deployments for other brigades in the division and its headquarters.

“I think we all will take some decrements, but I think those decrements will be focused in areas that would protect training for deployments,” he said.

Among the cuts proposed in the memo that could have an impact locally is a freeze in civilian hiring, something Gen. Townsend said “will have some effect on us here as well.”

Other potential cuts are reductions to base operating funding and reductions in administrative expenses.

Carl A. McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, said he considered the planning necessary, given the current budget uncertainty.

“It’s not the perfect solution, but it works for a time,” he said.

Mr. McLaughlin criticized federal lawmakers for the lack of clarity on how to move ahead with spending and where cuts would be made.

“If you don’t have it settled on what you want to do, it makes it much more difficult,” he said. “There’s lots and lots of issues at a lot of levels.”

Describing the post’s work force as “lean on how many civilians it has,” he said the cuts in that area may be less than at other installations that count on civilians for more functions.

A message left for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 400 was not returned Friday afternoon.

The full Department of Defense memo can be found at www.scribd.com/doc/120084219/DoD-Handling-Budgetary-Uncertainty.

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