Oahu base merger concerns
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
At a ceremony yesterday, a gate that has long separated a waterfront walking path between Hickam Air Force Base and Naval Station Pearl Harbor was symbolically taken down as the two historic bases and distinctly different services begin to merge installation support functions.
But on both sides of the fence that still splits the bases, there remains a lot of uncertainty about culture clash and job security with the merger.
Concerns about jobs and base services are being echoed in the Army, with installation cuts of up to 20 percent expected as the Pentagon emphasizes operational funding for the nation's two wars.
By Oct. 1, all resources, property, personnel and authority for installation management functions at Hickam and Pearl Harbor will be transferred to the Navy under a new entity that will be called Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
For the Air Force, that means 600 military members and nearly 1,200 civilians and $218 million in gross payroll and associated operating expenses will be shifted to Navy control, officials said.
"I think people are just concerned, one, to make sure that they are going to have a job, and that their benefits will remain intact," said Felicia Placencia, civilian personnel officer at Hickam. "They are concerned also who their supervisor is going to be and how things are going to change for them."
Navy Capt. Richard W. Kitchens, who is expected to become the joint base commander, addressed part of that concern by saying, "We're not going into this with a mandate for job reductions." Kitchens is the commander of Naval Station Pearl Harbor.
The mandate from the Defense Department was that Pearl Harbor and Hickam consolidate services. The 2005 Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended the establishment of 12 joint bases by consolidating the management and support of 26 separate installations in Hawai'i, Guam and the Mainland, potentially saving $2.3 billion over 20 years.
As war costs continue to consume Pentagon budgets, the Army is trimming its installation costs for lawn mowing, janitorial services, recreation programs and other expenses, The Associated Press reported.
Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. "Randy" Mixon, commander of the U.S. Army in the Pacific, recently said he was told to expect anywhere from a 15 to 20 percent reduction in money for installation costs.
"That concerns us greatly," Mixon said.
As of Jan. 2, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii had about 1,150 Department of the Army civilian employees. In fiscal 2009, the Hawai'i garrison's budget was about $389 million.
The Army said it put in place a temporary hiring freeze in October, and it is limiting overtime and travel, reducing the number of government vehicles and scrutinizing contracts to see which ones can be terminated or reduced.
Army, Navy and Air Force officials said there are no job cuts planned. Instead, the services intend to use attrition and reorganizations to save money on personnel costs.
"There are currently no plans to reduce the workforce other than through retirements and normal attrition," the Army said.
In recent years, the Army's installation budgets have enjoyed "unprecedented levels of funding" with additional services and programs, according to the service.
But Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the Army's Installation Management Command, put the brakes on spending.
"Much of this growth is attributed to funding the war, rebalancing our Army through investments in Army's force structure, equipment, infrastructure, and key soldier and family programs," Lynch said on his command's Web site in late 2009.
"Funding levels of this magnitude are unsustainable year after the year, and as the country faces some stiff economic challenges, we are forced to reduce funding and exact a greater level of stewardship over our resources."
Lynch said the Army will maintain "full support to life, health and safety programs," but, starting this year, some installation services will be "notably less" than in recent years.
Unlike the Army's situation, the joint basing mandate at Hickam and Pearl Harbor is insulating the bases from cuts that are starting to be seen elsewhere.
"Even though (the Pentagon) has indicated installation funding will face challenges, they have not relaxed the mandatory minimum levels of service required at joint bases," said Kitchens. "Unless (the Pentagon) relaxes those standards we expect Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to be largely protected from the near-term funding cuts other bases may face."
JOB SECURITY ISSUES
But job security issues remain. There are about 2,060 civilians and 370 active duty sailors working on installation issues on the Navy side, officials said.
Fifty-three functions are consolidating, including fire protection and law enforcement services, information technology management, custodial services, environmental compliance, housing, food services, grounds maintenance, lodging and morale, welfare and recreation.
Agnes Tauyan, a spokeswoman for Navy Region Hawai'i, said officials "are working hard to ensure employees on both bases are treated equitably for job selection, promotion and retention purposes. Normal attrition will be used to the maximum extent possible for any workforce reshaping."
Even though there may be duplicate functions on the bases, that doesn't necessarily mean jobs will be eliminated, she said.
"Many other factors such as workload and capacity will be considered as well," Tauyan said. "Instant budget cuts and elimination of jobs are not the goals of this process.
"We are going about this very carefully, constantly with the mission in mind."
Robert Lillis, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 1998, which represents some Pearl Harbor maintenance workers, said he has concerns about the merger.
"As time goes on, if they do gain efficiencies by combining the base functions, they can certainly look to lay off redundant personnel That's what we're concerned about, but right now I hate to say it, it's wait and see," Lillis said. "Wait and see what they are going to do."
Kitchens said at a recent Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i military briefing that "there is absolutely a tremendous respect for the cultural differences" between the two bases, and each service will retain its identity. He added that "we're not going into this with a mandate for a certain cost-savings."
A March U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that the 20-year savings from the 12 joint bases estimated at $2.3 billion in 2005 had declined to $273 million by 2009, and concluded that it was unclear whether joint basing would ultimately result in any actual savings.
Kitchens said he is "confident" there will be cost savings at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in the long run.
Col. Giovanni K. Tuck, the commander of the 15th Airlift Wing at Hickam, gave an example at the Chamber of Commerce briefing of the way ahead at the joint base.
"If I have a grounds maintenance contract I'm currently operating at Hickam and the Navy has a grounds maintenance contract that they are currently operating, how about taking a look at those contracts?" Tuck said. "They are big-time contracts, 30 or 40 of them, combine them together see what kind of savings we can get there."