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Grand Forks AFB absorbs sequester cuts

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE -- Grand Forks Air Force Base already has absorbed some $800,000 in financial cuts as a result of the federal budget sequester that began last month. But they might be difficult to notice.

"We were able to do this without impacting operations," said Col. Christopher Mann, interim commander of the 319th Air Base Wing. "Right now, every airman at Grand Forks Air Force Base is fully ready to deploy."

That is his top priority. Other priorities are: maintaining base capabilities and facilities as much as possible; and continuing services for airmen and their families.

"The great thing about Grand Forks Air Force Base is the vast majority of our infrastructure is in fantastic shape," he said. "It's going to allow us to weather the sequester really well. But you can only delay maintenance for so long."

He likens it to an athlete competing on an Olympic scale.

"If that world-class athlete cuts back on his training for a week, he's still going to compete at that level," he said. "But if he cuts back over a month or a year, he's no longer going to be able to compete."

Mann was named 319th interim commander in March, when Col. Tim Bush was relieved of his command for failing to meet physical fitness standards. Mann is scheduled to return to his previous post, vice wing commander, on Wednesday, when Col. Paul Baumann assumes command.

So far, the base has not faced any cutbacks in personnel, Mann said.

As of late last week, the base had 1,966 military and civilian personnel. The civilian workforce, which totals 292, includes civil engineers, medical professionals, public affairs officers and others.

"They're in every unit, every squadron," Mann said.

Base officials are waiting for additional guidance from the Defense Department on potential civilian furloughs.

"If it does go into effect, we expect some reduced hours," he said.

For example, some offices or businesses may close for one day per week.

"Our housing office is civilian-run," he said. "If it's closed, there's no one to run it. As long as we keep our population educated on this, we can reduce frustration. We're trying to prevent that."

Another potential change is reducing hours or closing the base bowling alley for the summer.

Base officials has saved money by canceling or postponing some non-essential projects, such as installing motion detectors in lighting systems that automatically turn off lights when rooms are not in use, or by delaying purchases of furniture for offices or base housing, he said.

However, the sequester has had little effect, at least so far, on contracts with local civilian contractors.

"At some time, we'll have to look at our priorities," Mann said, adding that lawn mowing and snow removal services, street repaving projects and others might have to be examined.

As of now, though, construction is scheduled to begin this week on repaving one section of street and a parking lot at the base's medical clinic.