The sequestration project is by James Politi of the Financial Times and includes data analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.
Fort Campbell has an exceptional place in the history of U.S. warfare. The sprawling military base, which straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border, was home to the special forces unit that helped raid Osama bin Laden's compound and to the “Screaming Eagles” of the U.S. Army’s 101st airborne division, who stormed Normandy on D-day.
Its troops helped lead the 2003 invasion of Iraq; men and women from the 4th brigade are still toiling in Afghanistan. At least 370 troops from Fort Campbell have died in the wars that followed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A main boulevard running along the base is part of the “Purple Heart trail,” named for the honor awarded to soldiers wounded in combat as well as the fallen.
Now Fort Campbell is fighting a battle on the home front: automatic federal budget cuts — known as sequestration — set in motion after Congress and the White House failed to agree on other ways to shrink U.S. deficits.
This summer the vast network of services that supports Fort Campbell’s soldiers, their families and veterans began to feel the strain from those cuts. More than 3,000 employees have been forced to take furloughs, or unpaid leave, for six days, creating a ripple of shutdowns across the base. The local army hospital limited non-emergency surgery and shut its pharmacy on some days. The civilian-staffed commissary where soldiers and their families buy discounted groceries was closed on Mondays. Simple tasks such as renewing an identification card became difficult. Even the job of training soldiers was restricted to personnel who were about to be deployed. And while the traditional Independence Day fireworks still lit the night sky, a concert was cancelled and celebrations were muted.
As debate swirled last month over whether there would be new demands on the military — this time in Syria — furloughed workers, spouses of soldiers among them, were scrambling for cash. Active personnel still received their full wages, but the civilian workforce lost hundreds of dollars in take-home pay each month.
“Employees have had difficulty meeting their basic living expenses: their mortgage, their car payment, their car insurance. It’s ‘who do I pay now? Who do I pay first?’” says Judy Hansford, a union leader at the base, whose office has handled dozens of inquiries from distraught workers.
Missing a bill payment, even temporarily, is not an option for many civilian Pentagon workers. A late utility bill payment could hurt their credit score, which is often a condition of employment. “They borrowed from friends, they borrowed from family, they backended loans, they took money out of their savings account, they took money out of their retirement account,” says Hansford.
A Financial Times analysis of data culled from a 2010 U.S. Census report found that the automatic cuts are being felt most in counties with military communities. Across the 388 counties in the United States that have one or more military installation, the sequestration impact per capita is $312.40. This is a one-year estimate. That is nearly twice as high as in the 2,727 counties without a military installation where the sequestration impact per capita is $171.27.
Of the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts over a decade, the Pentagon is slated to shoulder half the burden, or about $600 billion, under the Budget Control Act of 2011 that established the cuts.
In the borderland of western Kentucky and central Tennessee, those federal dollars flow into local businesses and provide jobs: Fort Campbell accounts for $4.7 billion in annual economic activity in the region and is one of its biggest employers.