With the threat of deep budget cuts lingering, officials at Fort Meade are preparing for the need to carry out missions with fewer resources
Congress has yet to reach an agreement to stop the automatic cuts known as the sequester, which would force $85 billion in across-the-board cuts to government spending in 2013, including more than $40 billion to the Department of Defense. The cuts would begin to take place on March 1, barring a new agreement from Congress and President Obama.
"Every program gets a cut, so their base operating budget will get a cut, and they'll have to figure out how to do less with less," said Katherine Hammack, the assistant secretary of the Army in charge of installations. "I won't say more with less, because it's really less with less."
Hammack said the cuts would be especially hard to take on because they must be phased in over the course of nine months, as opposed to 12 months as originally planned.
Hammack spoke to reporters Wednesday during an appearance at Fort Meade.
It's not entirely clear how a sequester would precisely impact services at Fort Meade, though officials said they would seek to find cost savings in nearly every area. Military pay would not be affected, but civilian employees could see furloughs, and cuts could have a ripple effect on contractors.
"We're going to try and use less of everything," Hammack said.
Fort Meade officials said they were working with community partners to find ways to ensure support and services for the military aren't impacted too greatly.
"The key to me and the success of everything we're doing is communication, and being as transparent as we can," said Col. Edward Rothstein, the installation commander at Fort Meade. "And I think we're doing really well. It's absolutely going to be challenging times, we know that."
The possible cuts come at a time when Fort Meade is playing a larger role in the nation's defense. The installation took on three new agencies after the base realignment and closure (BRAC) activities in 2011, and the role of U.S. Cyber Command has taken on greater importance.
Recent news reports suggest that hackers from foreign countries, including China, have been targeting computer systems in the United States.
Last month, reports suggested that U.S. Cyber Command will eventually grow in size to nearly 5,000 workers.
This has forced military leaders to try and reconcile the notion of an expanded mission with fewer resources.
"The mission is not impacted, and it's a growing mission," Hammack said. "So it makes it a very interesting juggle that you have a growing mission that this nation has asked from its military services, but we're being told we have to do it with less money than we have."
Hammack made her comments Wednesday during an appearance to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new privately developed apartment complex on Fort Meade. The new Reece Crossings project was hailed as one example of how the military can continue to provide services even in a period of austerity.
"There's going to be an increase in our reliance on partnerships in the community to deliver the services that the military needs in order to serve us," Hammack said.
On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that a sequester would likely require furloughs for the defense workforce, and Hammack confirmed that civilian DOD employees could be asked to work four days a week for an indefinite period of time.
"That's difficult, that's a 20 percent decrease in your pay," Hammack said. "And that has impact on the local economy. They won't be buying lunch, they won't be shopping as much and they are going to have a hard time paying their rent."
A report from Wells Fargo on Monday predicted that Maryland was among the states most vulnerable to sequester, due to its heavy government presence.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2nd District), who represents the Fort Meade area, said last week that he would continue to work with members of Congress to prevent the sequester from happening.
"It’s not too late to find a real solution," he wrote on his website. "Recovery from just a few weeks of sequestration will take months if not years. Members of Congress must stop trying to score political points and, instead, work on real solutions."