DODEA halts some travel, training in face of possible budget cuts

Marilee Fitzgerald, director of Department of Defense Education Activity (Department of Defense Education Activity)
Marilee Fitzgerald, director of Department of Defense Education Activity (Department of Defense Education Activity)

DODEA halts some travel, training in face of possible budget cuts

by: Steven Beardsley | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: January 18, 2013

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Department of Defense educators face new restrictions on travel and training as part of an agency-wide effort to slow spending before potential funding cuts hit in March.

A memo from Department of Defense Education Activity Director Marilee Fitzgerald sent Tuesday to all DODEA area directors orders the immediate cessation of all non-mission-critical travel, training and conferences. Exemptions include athletic, co-curricular or other student events, according to the memo.

The document also suspends the DODDS Transfer Program, aimed at placing educators in open positions, and the Administrator Rotation Program, which cycles administrators across the system, from making non-critical placements for the 2013-14 school year.

The changes anticipate two funding shortfalls scheduled to hit the federal government in March if there is no congressional action — the deferred sequestration cuts set for March 1, and the possibility that budget funding will continue at lower levels beyond the end of a continuing resolution on March 27.

“There are limited areas in our budget from which to generate any savings in the last six months of a budget cycle,” Fitzgerald wrote in the Jan. 15 memo. “Thus, we must operate in a strict culture of savings now.”

Schools will remain open regardless of what happens in March, Fitzgerald wrote. Transportation, athletic and co-curricular activities would remain in place, she wrote, as will safety programs.

Shortfalls would affect employees, according to the memo. Furloughs up to 30 calendar days, or 22 discontinuous workdays are a possibility should funding be affected, and temporary employees could be released.

School-level personnel and “any mission-critical” employees at the department level would be exempted from furloughs, the memo stated.

The changes come after Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter last week authorized components in the agency to implement cost savings that included restricted travel and training, as well as civilian hiring freezes, base funding cuts and maintenance cancellations. The memo also required leaders to form draft budgets anticipating a worst-case scenario.

Harvey Gerry, chief of staff at DODDS-Europe, said the new instructions largely affect administrators and officials such as himself, leaving day-to-day school activities untouched.

“I think the only thing we’re going to see immediately is a much more intense level of scrutiny about the types of travel people are doing,” he said.

The new rules require Fitzgerald personally to approve travel for employees at the school level and a higher-level official to approve travel for employees at the district or theater level.

Officials may need to reconsider attending distant school events, Gerry said, and they’ll look at substituting phone or video teleconferencing for meetings. Gerry could think of two meetings in Washington that some DODDS-Europe officials were planning to attend; he speculated they now might do a video teleconference for one of them.

The suspension of the transfer program will not affect staff who need to move from a closing school to an open position elsewhere, including those in the Heidelberg district, Gerry said. The rule change will affect staff hoping to move for other reasons, he said.

“I guess the biggest thing for us is that all the school level operations are going to continue without any interruption,” Gerry said.

The sequestration cuts, crafted in 2011 as an incentive to cut federal spending and postponed during a last-minute deal on Jan. 2, could level $50 billion in spending reductions against the Pentagon this year if not avoided.

Carter’s memo requires all cuts or cost-savings to be reversible should funding return to normal levels.