WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, has co-sponsored legislation calling on the Pentagon to cut its civilian workforce by 15 percent over the next five years — a move Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark, says could cost jobs at the Little Rock Air Force Base.
The bill, known as the REDUCE Act, is expected to save $82.5 billion over the five-year period as some 115,500 jobs are shed through attrition, incentives for voluntary separation or early retirement and layoffs.
Cotton and other proponents of the bill say the bill is needed as a cushion against the drastic cuts to active-duty military that President Obama has proposed. Pryor is opposing the measure, saying it could cost more than 553 Arkansans their jobs at Pine Bluff Arsenal, Little Rock Air Force Base and Red River Army Depot.
"Either Congressman Cotton isn’t listening or he doesn’t understand that cutting these jobs would be devastating to so many Arkansas families," said Jeff Weaver, campaign manager for Pryor for Senate.
There are 725 civilian employees working for the Defense Department at Pine Bluff Arsenal, according to Pryor’s campaign. A 15 percent reduction would equal 108 jobs.
Cotton said the legislation gives the Pentagon leeway in how it would reach the 15 percent target, making it impossible to say with any certitude how many positions would be reduced at any particular facility.
Moreover, he said that the alternative would be deeper cuts to active duty military that would imperil national defense.
"Unfortunately, President Obama has unfairly targeted our military for drastic cuts — undermining our ability to defend ourselves and putting more Arkansans in harms way," Cotton said. "The REDUCE Act ensures cuts to the defense department budget are made fairly across both the active duty and civilian workforces — protecting both Arkansas’ civilian workers and active duty military officers."
Cotton is one of seven original co-sponsors of the legislation that Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., introduced last month in response to a Government Accountability Office report showing that between 2001 and 2012 the number of active-duty military grew by 3.4 percent, while civilian employees grew by 17 percent.
"At a time when our military presence and projection of power is sorely needed in the world, we cannot risk further cuts to our uniformed personnel while the defense civilian workforce remains unchanged," Calvert said.
American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said the bill is irresponsible and would end up costing taxpayers more money by having outside contractors or higher-paid active-duty personnel perform the work.
"If the department has work to do and money to pay for that work to be done, then there is no reason why DoD managers should be prevented from using civilian employees," Cox said.