Technicians returning to work, but National Guard still facing challenges
A majority of the furloughed West Virginia National Guard members and support staff are returning to work this week because of a movement in Congress to extend military pay to reserve members.
But the state’s top-ranking Guard official said a return to work doesn’t mean those members, and the overall safety of the state, won’t continue to be affected by the federal government shut down.
“The Guard in West Virginia will overcome obstacles and we’ll make things happen to take care of our people in this state, but we shouldn’t have to operate this way.”
Adjutant General James Hoyer made his plea to Congress during a press conference at the West Virginia National Guard headquarters in Charleston, saying its time to put an end to the federal government shut down.
“We are starting to experience degraded readiness in the West Virginia National Guard as a result of this. There are 53 other National Guard organizations across the country that are experiencing the same problems,” Hoyer said Tuesday, “so if you look a that in a holistic approach, we’re starting to really effect our ability to protect our nation and our homeland.”
Money, he said, is a major part of that problem. Money to pay for employees, facilities and supplies.
As Congress prepared for the federal shut down last week, they passed House Resolution 3210 to continue to fund the military; however, Hoyer said the resolution was interpreted by the Department of Defense to mean only active duty members.
In order to keep some 389 military authority employees working, or state employees whose salaries are reimbursed by the federal government, Hoyer and his team began postponing infrastructure maintenance projects around the state and shifting the money to cover those salary costs. Those costs have added up to around $300,000 a week.
“I’ve only got a $16 million dollar state budget and the longer they go, the longer I wait for the reimbursement,” he said. “So, we can only to a certain threshold of pain.”
“Right now we can go to the 16 at noon unless we sit down and come up with another project that we push back.”
After the 16 and without another source of funding, should the federal shut down continue, Hoyer said the state may have to furlough those workers.
As for the 1,150 federally funded civilian technician positions who were furloughed beginning October 1, Hoyer said nearly 1,000 of those returned to work this week. That return came after Congress lobbied for the federal Department of Defense to loosen the restrictions on that same House Resolution.
Guard and reserve employees will now also receive pay for their return to work that began Monday, but Hoyer said, again, until a budget is passed, he has no idea how long it will take for that money to actually come.
On top of salary issues, Hoyer said his Guard members haven’t been able to train, keep up with vehicle and air craft maintenance, and provide services to active duty families and veterans.
Without keeping up on all of these, he said should an emergency occur, it will take the Guard longer to prepare and respond.
“One way or the other, West Virginia Guardsmen will be where they need to be to take care of the people of West Virginia,” he said. “Now, it might be in a different fashion and it’s going to be a hell of a lot more painful for us in the Guard to get to where we need to be.
“Is that fair to the men and women who go out and do that? That we have to put them in a position that they have to go the extra above and beyond when we don’t have to be in this position?”
Hoyer added there are three new military helicopters for the Guard that should have been picked up on October 1 to replace aging state equipment.
As of now, there are no funds to move those helicopters, leaving the Guard in short supply should there be an emergency.
That and similar issues, Hoyer said, will lead to delays in response as they try to come up with new ways to deliver supplies or conduct rescue missions.