Fort Jackson facing cuts to civilian staff

Capitol Hill budget battle blamed

COLUMBIA -- The Army has asked commanders to plan for budget cutbacks that would include layoffs for civilian employees at posts such as Fort Jackson.

Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, gave the order in anticipation of budget shortfalls caused by an impasse in Congress over war spending.

The Army has been using money normally budgeted for maintenance and operations to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as Congress and President Bush fight over a supplemental war-funding bill.

Fort Jackson officials said Wednesday they had not received guidance on how to proceed.

But the post's mission of training soldiers remains a high priority for the Army, said Karen Soule, Fort Jackson spokeswoman. "We expect to be fully resourced to conduct basic combat training," she said.

The Army expects to run out of money by Feb. 23, according to a release issued Wednesday.

The Army must notify civilian employees in mid-December of any impending layoffs in February because of labor agreements that require advance warning, said U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C.

But Spratt doesn't believe the gridlock will last.

Neither does U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The Department of Defense wants Congress to approve a $200 billion emergency supplemental bill to fund the wars. But bills that have passed have included a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq, and Bush has said he would veto any legislation that has withdrawal timelines.

The Army's memorandum could pressure Democrats to send the president a spending bill he would approve. Graham said the order was issued out of necessity, not out of political gamesmanship.

Spratt, on the other hand, said the Army's memo could have that effect.

"Oh, I think they know it's the secondary effect," Spratt said.