Blue Grass Army Depot to lay off 182 in June; many offered temporary positions

gkocher1@herald-leader.comApril 15, 2013 

Blue Grass Army Depot announced Monday that 182 civilian employees would lose their jobs by June 21 as part of a planned "reduction in force" at the Madison County facility.

That will leave 560 permanent employees, which is about what the depot's employment was before the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C., said Col. Brian L. Rogers, depot commander.

Of those 182 receiving notices, 108 are being offered temporary or "term" positions that extend for varying periods — from a couple of months to 18 months — beyond June 21. Those who accept the transition from permanent to temp or term employment will retain their pay and benefits.

The actual number of people losing their jobs June 21 is 74, Rogers said during a Monday morning news conference. Severance packages will be based on an employee's age and length of service, said Debbie Forrester of the Army's civilian human resources agency at Fort Riley, Kan.

Army officials warned in July that layoffs of 310 people might be necessary to balance the depot's shrinking workload.

Fewer workers were affected than initially thought because of normal attrition, hiring controls and the use of voluntary early retirement and voluntary separation-incentive pay.

"I'm a combat veteran, but I've never had a more difficult task than informing patriotic and hard-working members of the Blue Grass Army Depot family that their jobs are gone or going away," Rogers said in a news release. "But I also know that the difficulty of a task doesn't make it any less important and that a key part of my job as BGAD commander is being a steward of our taxpayer dollars. I am pleased the final number of those impacted has been reduced, but it hasn't lessened the burden of the process."

The job losses do not affect workers who are building the plant that will destroy chemical weapons stored at the depot, Rogers said.

Rogers said he did not anticipate any more layoffs into 2015. Remaining employees might be affected by furloughs through the end of this fiscal year, but the depot has not received official word about that. A transition office was opened in February at the depot for laid-off employees to receive assistance with job retraining, résumé writing and job searches.

The depot receives, stores, issues, renovates and disposes of conventional ammunition.

Its civilian work force underwent a significant increase from 2007 to 2010, in part to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009, as the two Middle East conflicts continued, the depot employed as many as 1,160.

But as combat operations ended in Iraq in 2011 and as the U.S. presence in Afghanistan winds down through 2014, the Army does not have the workload to maintain current work-force levels. By the end of last May, the depot had 962 civilian employees. But while the depot's work force has been declining since 2011, the reductions announced Monday are the first to include involuntary layoffs, Rogers said.

Some of the people affected by the layoffs produced "mine-resistant ambush protected" coverings for vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those armored coverings helped protect vehicles against mines and "improvised explosive devices." That work "saved countless numbers of lives," Rogers said.

The depot is an "Army Working Capital Fund" organization, which means it has to run like a business to remain viable. It receives little appropriated funding from the government.

During the past five years, in an attempt to generate more revenue, the depot has engaged in "public-private partnerships" in which its work force may be used to make things or perform services for private industry or the government. For example, a defense contractor might use depot employees to perform part of a government contract.

However, the depot is indirectly affected by overall cuts in Department of Defense spending. Those cuts affect customers and the amount of work they can afford to have the depot perform.

The depot was able to secure additional work for the next two-year fiscal period, the news release said. The depot also saved as much $1.2 million last fiscal year when it asked employees to identify ways to curb costs, Rogers said.

Depot cutbacks will affect the community at large, too. For example, turkey hunts for the public and for the Wounded Warriors Project on the depot property were canceled this spring, Rogers said.

Rogers, who will leave as depot commander this year, said the installation would try to keep as many events as possible "because we want to continue to be good citizens of the community."

Other Army depots around the country have announced similar staff reductions.

Blue Grass Army Depot was established in 1941 and began operations in 1942 as an ammunition and general supply storage depot. It covers nearly 15,000 acres and is used for munitions storage, repair of general supplies and ammunition, and the disposal of munitions. Some training of military personnel also is done at the depot.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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