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Local News

Sequester Putting Squeeze on UCSB, Santa Barbara Airport and VAFB

Officials say spending cut impacts are ranging from science research to airline flight delays to cell phones

The impact of sequestration, a series of federal spending cuts that took effect March 1, certainly has been felt locally, but perhaps not visibly so. That may soon change as the across-the-board reductions begin to take shape. Noozhawk recently checked in with three of the biggest local institutions and agencies affected by the changes — UC Santa Barbara, Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Santa Barbara Airport — for an update.

One of the biggest effects locally will be felt at the university level, with fewer federal dollars to fund science research.

Michael Witherell, UCSB’s vice chancellor for research, said sequestration’s impacts were felt at UCSB long before March 1.

“They were already here, at some level, and will continue to grow unless and until the sequestration is ended,” he told Noozhawk.

According to terms of the sequester, which was enacted as part of a 2011 budget agreement between President Barack Obama and Congress, federal research and development dollars are to be reduced by $58 billion a year.

Federal funding to the University of California as a whole is down about 20 percent from this time last year, said Witherell, who added that he’s hopeful that federal agencies will commit more funding once they know what their upcoming budgets will be.

Research agencies, like the National Science Foundation, are trying to keep multiyear commitments made in earlier years, he said.

“They are responding to the shortfall mostly by funding fewer new and renewal proposals and by funding the ones they do approve at a lower level of funding,” he said.

This means less spending on research at UCSB over the next several years, he said, since the commitments are usually for a three-year time period.

Air Force Col. Nina Armagno, commander of the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, says base officials have tried to make 'deliberate, well-thought, logical reductions.' (U.S. Air Force photo)
Air Force Col. Nina Armagno, commander of the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, says base officials have tried to make “deliberate, well-thought, logical reductions.” (U.S. Air Force photo)

Up the coast, Vandenberg Air Force Base has not escaped the Defense Department’s budget cuts. Air Force Col. Nina Armagno, commander of the 30th Space Wing, said the base has already taken steps to implement reductions across every aspect of operations.

“We have tried very hard to make deliberate, well-thought, logical reductions that preserve safe and secure mission accomplishment, and maintain services for our people and their families,” Armagno said in a statement.

Some base employees are facing the possibility of 14 furlough days in 2013, she said. Others were in positions that were cut last year and have been uncertain as to when and if their positions would officially disappear, she added.

“The budget uncertainty prevented us from addressing the personnel cuts, limiting us to offering buy-outs or placing people into similar jobs,” Armagno said. “We now have a way ahead to hopefully get all employees into other jobs on base.”

Other tough choices have had to be made, however, and the base has had to drastically curtail travel, supply budgets and its vehicle fleet.

“We’ve even cut back on the number of smart phones and cell phones,” she said.

Things like longer waits for work orders will result and the base is already starting to show signs of reduced landscaping, she said.

Passengers at Santa Barbara Airport could encounter delays as soon as Monday because of the federal cuts.

The Transportation Department is cutting $637 million from the Federal Aviation Administration’s $16 billion budget, which means air traffic control tower staffing will be cut by 10 percent.

“Depending on the time of day, weather conditions, runway configuration, and single or multiple control towers in use, passenger flights could be delayed anywhere from 10 minutes to three hours according to a study made by the FAA on March 29th at several major airports,” the Santa Barbara Airport said in a news release Friday.

“We are in a wait and see situation,” Santa Barbara Airport director Karen Ramsdell said in the statement.

“We don’t foresee delays out of SBA at the present time, but due to the fact our nonstop flights to San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Phoenix and Los Angeles are major hubs, passengers should be aware if they are traveling farther than those non-stop destination, their travel plans could be affected,” she said.

Ramsdell said passengers can go to the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center to get updates on flight delays for major airports throughout the United States. Click here for more information.

The Santa Barbara Airport also has a live schedule for inbound and outbound local flights, she said. Click here for more information.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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