WASHINGTON — — Midshipmen at the Naval Academy could spend less time training at sea, some gates into Fort Meade could be shut down and routine maintenance at military installations across the state could be delayed under federal budget cuts set to begin Friday.
Military bases in Maryland stand to lose $114 million in operational funding as part of the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. That is on top of the $359 million the Pentagon expects to save by furloughing 46,000 of its civilian workers in the state.
"This is going to be difficult," said Col. Edward Rothstein, commander of Fort Meade. "It really does become very personal."
Military officials said Tuesday that they are still reviewing how to juggle their budgets if Congress and the Obama administration allow the $85 billion in cuts across government to take place.
Despite dire initial warnings from the White House, it is unlikely that the most significant impacts would be felt for at least a month.
President Barack Obama toured a nuclear submarine factory in Virginia on Tuesday to underscore the potential impact sequestration would have on military jobs and the economy at large.
The administration is pushing for a delay in the cuts to give lawmakers more time to reach a broad deficit-reduction agreement.
"Already, the uncertainty around these cuts is having an effect," Obama said. "Companies are starting to prepare for layoff notices. Families are preparing to cut back on expenses. And the longer these cuts are in place, the greater the damage."
But with only three days remaining to stop the deep cuts, little progress is being made on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are increasingly shifting attention to March 27, when the federal government would run out of money without further appropriations. That might be the next best opportunity to address the sequester.
On Tuesday, House Republicans hewed closely to the message they have relied on for days — that the chamber has passed legislation to avoid the sequester and that rank-and-file members cannot accept additional revenue increases sought by Democrats to delay the cutbacks.
Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, accused Obama of using "our military men and women as a prop in yet another campaign rally to support his tax hikes."
The House legislation included cuts that are not palatable to Democrats, and because they were approved in the previous session of Congress, they are no longer active bills. Neither the House nor the Democratic-controlled Senate have passed sequestration legislation that stands a chance of becoming law.
Separately, Republicans condemned a decision by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release hundreds of nonviolent illegal immigrants to save money in preparation for the cuts.
Sequestration is the result of the messy 2011 agreement to raise the nation's debt ceiling. The cuts were designed to be so painful that they would force Republicans and Democrats to craft a deficit-reduction deal to avoid them. But that never happened.
The real economic impact of the cuts remains murky. Obama and other Democrats are beginning to point out that most of the impact will not be felt immediately. And several school, military and business leaders in Maryland say the amount of pain caused by the cuts would depend on how long they are allowed to stay in place.
Sandy Dean, public affairs officer for the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, said no decisions about how to address the cuts have been made and that officials are "thoughtfully working through the planning process."
But the Department of Defense has provided specifics on what could be cut in Maryland if the budget impasse drags on. Demolition projects at Naval Air Station Patuxent River could be put on hold, for instance. Air shows planned by the Blue Angels for
and Annapolis this year could be grounded.
Rothstein commands about 1,000 personnel charged with running day-to-day operations at Fort Meade, home to the National Security Agency, U.S. Cyber Command and other key agencies.
With 56,000 service members, civilians and contractors, the 95 agencies and organizations at the base in Anne Arundel County combine to form the largest employer in the state.
Rothstein said he is chiefly concerned with the impact sequestration would have on his workforce, including the impact of furloughs on morale.
Furloughs, if required, would begin in April, he said, after initial notices are distributed in mid-March.
The Naval Academy said training aboard ships and submarines could be limited, along with semester abroad programs and admissions outreach. In a statement, the academy said travel reductions could impose "limits on athletic team competition."
"Sequestration is only part of the challenge," the academy said. "Living under a long-term [stop-gap budget] is also a big problem."
If the cuts were to have a significant impact, it would be in states such as Maryland and Virginia that have heavy concentrations of federal employees and contractors. Federal spending on employees and contractors makes up nearly 20 percent of Maryland's economy, according to the Pew Center on the States.
Gov. Martin O'Malley is scheduled to visit one of those contractors in Howard County on Wednesday.
"Contractors are already feeling it," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat and House minority whip. "They're already having to effect savings because they don't have the confidence that there's going to be the cash flow to pay their employees."