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Mass. Guard staff must take time off

Budget cuts require furlough days

In the past year, the Massachusetts National Guard has aided the state in disasters including Hurricane Sandy, the February blizzard, and the Boston Marathon bombings. This week, the Guard helped secure the city’s Fourth of July celebration, the first since the Marathon attacks.

But starting Monday, many employees of the National Guard will be asked to stay home.

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More than 900 employees who support the Guard’s mission must take 11 unpaid furlough days between now and September in a cost-cutting measure imposed by automatic federal budget cuts.

The cuts do not affect the state’s 1,000 active-duty guardsmen, and the region will not be left vulnerable to a natural disaster, a spokesman said.

A joint operations center is always running and staffed by active-duty soldiers, and other guardsmen could be activated in an emergency, said Lieutenant Colonel James Sahady, spokesman for the Massachusetts National Guard. The traditional Guard force in Massachusetts includes some 6,000 members from the Army and 2,000 from the Air Force, Sahady said.

“If there’s a Hurricane Irene tomorrow,” Sahady said, “we can ramp up.”

But 909 Massachusetts Guard employees will be forced to take unpaid days off, losing 20 percent of their salaries through September, and to squeeze their five-day workload into four. The workers support the Guard’s efforts in a range of areas, including supplies, operations, maintenance, and communications, said Sahady, who counts himself among their ranks. The Guardsmen who do their training over the weekend will not be affected; the employees who prepare the drills to train them will.

“Though we are impacted by furloughs, we must continue our work to safeguard the nation and the Commonwealth,” Sahady said. “We are working through budget uncertainty and will make decisions to minimize impacts on our mission, personnel, and communities.”

The furloughs are another result of sequestration, the automatic spending cuts that began March 1. Sequestration is expected to slash $85 billion in spending — roughly half from defense — over the next seven months. Civilian defense employee furloughs are expected to save $1.8 billion nationally.

The severe, across-the-board cuts were threatened by the Budget Control Act of 2011 as a worst-case scenario that would take effect only if Congress failed to come up with a more thoughtful solution to reducing the deficit by this year. Now, in lieu of such a solution, the cuts are taking effect.

In Massachusetts, sequestration has reduced the flow of federal money for medical research, defense spending, preschool education, and housing subsidies.

The Guard employees now facing furlough are members, too, because they are required to maintain their training and service to retain employment.

“Our civilian employees are some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever worked with, and they are always ready to do what it takes to accomplish the mission. There will be less time spent doing the work that supports our missions, but we will ensure that people will be focused on the core aspects of their jobs to make certain things are getting done,” said Major General L. Scott Rice, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard.

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter@stephanieebbert.
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