If a federal budget agreement is not reached by March 1, 1,000 jobs at the Savannah River Site would face four-month furloughs and thousands more would feel the sting, too, according to a report made public Thursday night.
With only days left until across-the-board cuts slash federal spending, House Democrats on the Appropriations Committee made public a report on the impact of sequestration.
The grim reality expressed by the Congressional Budget Office is that economic growth for 2013 would be halved and up to 1.4 million jobs could be lost.
Automatic federal budget cuts of $85 billion go into effect March 1, unless Congress acts. Republicans and Democrats are embroiled in a bitter fight over how best to address the federal deficit. The cuts were set to begin Jan. 2, but were delayed for three months through passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.
The report from the Democrats is the most detailed scenario released publicly on the impact of sequestration. The report seeks to highlight the damage which could be inflicted if cuts are not focused by the passing of a budget.
The Democrats' report is re-enforced by Dr. Stephen S. Fuller of George Mason University, whose research shows “nearly half of all sequestration job losses would come from small businesses.” Fuller concludes that more than 950,000 small business jobs nationwide are at risk under sequestration.
While the cuts would affect the whole country, Department of Energy work could specifically impact South Carolina and the CSRA.
“Significant furloughs of the Defense Environmental Management contractor workforce would range from weeks to months,” the report states. “The Savannah River site in South Carolina would furlough over 1,000 workers for approximately four months; and 4,000 to 5,000 workers' schedules would be affected across the complex. Sites will be forced to suspend and/or delay cleanup activities and shutdown facilities.”
Specific activities which would be impacted include:
• Processing of plutonium in H Canyon at Savannah River would be suspended.
• Retrieval and disposition of radioactive liquid tank waste at the Office of River Protection (Washington) and Savannah River would be delayed.
• Up to 30 compliance milestones across the complex would be delayed which could result in significant fines and penalties.
• Several major user facilities at national labs would be shut down.
In a response to the report, Energy Secretary Dr. Stephen Chu backed the findings and re-enforced the possible negative impact of cuts that were not targeted.
“The effects of sequestration are particularly damaging because, by law, they apply equally to each program, project and activity within an account, thereby severely constraining our ability to prioritize and make tradeoffs among activities under reduced funding scenarios,” Chu said in a letter to Barbara Mikulski, chairwoman of the Committee on Appropriations.
Chu's letter describes a slowdown in programs to deal with potentially dangerous, 50-year-old fuel rods being stored in L-Basin at SRS.
On Friday, the Aiken Standard reported on a safety report which highlighted the danger posed by these degrading materials.
“Among the impacts to the nation's nuclear nonproliferation capability, reduced funding would cause delays and increased costs to efforts to secure and convert surplus nuclear materials around the world,” his letter said. “Finally, work utilizing special nuclear materials would be impacted, affecting nonproliferation and emergency response training, and spent fuel stabilization activities.”