- - Wednesday, July 18, 2012

As the debate about sequestration boils over, the window is fast closing for the congressional action needed to avert across-the-board defense industry layoffs. Time is simply running out for Congress to stave off this blow to the economy.

Defense companies doing business with the U.S. government will, by federal law, soon begin handing out hundreds of thousands of layoff notices — to workers driving computers and folks driving fork lifts and production lines across the nation — just days before the November elections. In some cases, where dictated by state law, the layoff notices would arrive even sooner.

The actual layoffs won’t take place until Jan. 2, but the federal WARN Act dictates that companies must notify employees 60 days in advance of potential mass layoffs. Wind the clock back 60 days and it’s Nov. 2 — just four days before Americans go to the polls. This is fact, not speculation.

The continued uncertainty spurred by the lack of action in Congress is affecting real people, right now. Contingency plans are in place at defense-related companies across America and in some cases, the dismissal notices are printed. Companies have to prepare plants for closing and workers are left wondering if they will have a job come Christmas.

For some in Congress, sequestration is simply election-year politics and political brinkmanship. They claim it won’t happen. For hardworking Americans and companies vital to our economic and national security, this is a looming disaster.

The failure of Congress to rationally negotiate, cooperate and act is pushing the defense industry, American workers and the nation into a man-made economic crisis. Unless Congress moves decisively by repealing sequestration or devising alternative budget measures, we will be out of options. More than 1 million skilled, educated individuals will be unemployed. Investment in industry and new product research will collapse or be put on indefinite hold — with unfathomed ramifications for decades to come.

Recently, Kenneth Baer, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in a published letter, “While OMB has not yet engaged agencies in planning, our staff is conducting the analysis needed to move forward if necessary. … Should it get to the point where it appears that Congress will not do its job and the sequester may take effect, OMB, [the Department of Defense] and the entire administration will be prepared.”

Unfortunately, no amount of planning can magically render sequestration into anything but a job-killing cut in defense investment.

Lawmakers have created a monster and buried their heads in the sand as it grew too big for its shackles. They have ignored cohesive pleas for action from industry, workers and communities, and they continue to paint sequestration as an irrational move that will not happen. The stark truth is that their political maneuvering is affecting real people and having real consequences. Those consequences could haunt lawmakers on Election Day because, along with their glossy campaign literature, workers will be receiving layoff notices in their mailboxes just hours before they cast their ballots.

Gregory P. Keeley is vice president for defense, intelligence and homeland security policy at TechAmerica. He was previously NATO/ISAF spokesman for the U.S. Navy in Iraq, special adviser to former Rep. James Saxton, New Jersey Republican, and a senior staffer for Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican.