Despite concerns about furloughs and budget cuts at Cherry Point’s Fleet Readiness Center East, work remains steady at the maintenance and repair facility, according to an official.
Mary Beth Fennell, integrated product team director at FRC East, spoke at a meeting Wednesday of the Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow lobby group at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.
She said that because of the non-Navy workload, the sequestration will have less of an impact on FRC East than at other similar facilities around the country.
"The long-term forecasts are very promising and there is no question about the need for the work that we do for our warfighter," Fennell told the group. "We actually are impacted by a smaller number of hours than the other two sites because we have more non-Navy inductions. And we have a higher percentage of component work than the other FRCs."
She admitted that sequestration could mean less work for the Navy during the second half of the year and could also lead to furloughs for the 3,400 civilian workers at the facility. But, she said, there is no official word on furloughs and that other work would keep the facility busy.
"At this point in time there is no talk of reductions in component workload," she said. "There is no talk of reductions in non-Navy workloads, so all of our Air Force work, all of our Department of State work and our partnership work is expected to continue. So we’re working out plans to shuffle people around such that we can keep that workload flowing if we end up with a shortage of Navy inductions."
She said FRC East leadership is making plans if furloughs come, which would result in one unpaid day off during the week for 22 weeks for civilian workers.
"The other thing that we’re working on is how do we keep the work moving if we’re only working four days a week," she said. "Basically we’re working two scenarios. How do we occupy people if the work’s not here and how do we produce the work if the people aren’t here? Either one of those or some combination could occur, so we’re developing lots of what ifs."
Fennell said the impact of a tightening budget has already been felt. FRC East had 180 contractors and now has only 35 who do direct labor for the depot. The workforce has been trimmed from 3,500 to 3,400, mainly through retirements.
She said total work hours at the facility are also being reduced through efficiency measures. Total man hours are down from 3.4 to 3.6 million in 2009 to an expected 3.2 million this year.
"Of course that could be further reduced if the sequester continues," she said.
Fennell said man hours are expected to continue to decline slightly through 2016 as work on older aircraft such as the H-46 and H1 helicopters decreases. She said work on new aircraft is not coming into the facility as quickly.
"That’s not a fact of workload going somewhere else," she said. "It’s actually just that the lifecycle of the weapon system that we support is impacting that workload range.
"We do expect, depending on budgets, that we will have some emergent work that will fill that gap and we expect our workload to be pretty steady over the next few years. There are a lot of uncertainties in that arena right now."
She said training, travel and contracts have been reduced at the facility, but there is optimism for the future.
"We’re also being told that any reductions that we see this year are intended to be reversible, so if we see reductions in this year, we could very well see increases in the next year to make up for them because the aircraft still need to be worked … ," she said.
Also on the horizon is scheduled work on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Fennell said FRC East employees are already working in Yuma, Ariz., on F-35s, and she anticipated planned modifications on the aircraft to start as early as July, with the first F-35 coming to Cherry Point.
ACT members had few questions for Fennell following the presentation. One involved what day employees would be forced to take off if furloughs became a reality, but Fennell could not answer that question. In response to another question, she also said the facility was not doing any work on drones.