For local military contractors, thoughts of the new year offer more opportunities for questions than resolutions.
Because Congress failed last year to reach an agreement on spending, the Budget Control Act mandates that take effect on Jan. 2 will slash $1.2 trillion from federal programs. Unless something changes, the cuts will force the Department of Defense budget to shed $500 billion during the next 10 years.
The cuts will follow a $487 billion trimming initiated by defense department leaders during the last couple of years as President Barack Obama has worked to end two wars.
Defense cuts would burn deep in York County, according to Mike Smeltzer, executive director of the Manufacturers' Association of South Central Pennsylvania.
The association commissioned a study that identified 80,000 jobs in the region that could be lost as a result of the cuts, he said.
BAE Systems: Some of those jobs could be lost at BAE Systems, which has been awarded more than $13 billion in defense contracts since 2000 to make and refurbish military vehicles at its West Manchester Township facility.
"Our initial estimates indicate it could result in the elimination of 10 percent of our workforce in the United States - or approximately 4,000 jobs," said Randy Coble, BAE spokesman.
The impact of the potential cuts on the York County site hasn't been determined, he said.
To soften that impact, BAE has long anticipated the budget pressures and spent much of the last two years aggressively restructuring its business to reduce costs, Coble said.
Colony Papers: While the budget cuts likely won't cause Colony Papers Inc. to slash jobs, they will undoubtedly affect the Emigsville-based business, said company president Fred Callahan.
"Overall, it's a negative, but it's not something I'm going to lose sleep over," he said.
Since 2000, Colony Papers has been awarded more than $6 million in defense contracts to provide packaging materials to the military.
The company has also worked with BAE and other York County defense contractors, Callahan said, and his concerns are mostly for the local area.
"I'm not as worried about the effect on us as I am the ramification on the general economy in the region," he said.
Congress: From 2000 to 2011, nearly $15 billion worth of defense dollars were awarded to 335 military contractors in York County, according to federal records.
Those numbers aren't lost on U.S. Rep. Todd Platts, a retiring Republican congressman who represents York County, Adams County and part of Cumberland County.
"This is a very serious issue that needs resolved before Jan. 2. This is the top issue Congress needs to resolve," he said.
With bipartisan support, the House has tried to address the issue, but the Senate has failed to vote on any proposals, he said.
The lack of action is partially blamed on the election cycle, and Platts said it will likely require Obama sitting down with the Senate in November or December to address the budget cuts.
Frustration: But the waiting is, indeed, the hardest part for local businesses and workers, according to Smeltzer.
"People are frustrated by the gridlock in Washington. They are worried about their companies and jobs, and they want to know what their legislators are doing about it," he said.
And they all have a right to be displeased, Platts said.
"Collectively, we're failing to govern," he said.
While lawmakers simmer, national security is undermined, and more than a million defense jobs across the country are held in limbo, he said.
"We need to rein in spending, but not on the backs of our men and women in uniform," Platts said.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is also concerned about the impact of the possible cuts, according to his press secretary, John Rizzo.
"Sen. Casey believes it's critical to protect jobs so the economy in the region and throughout Pennsylvania can grow. He is confident that Republicans and Democrats will come together to avoid the adverse impact of arbitrary cuts imposed by sequestration, reduce the deficit and keep the economy on track," he said.
Casey has also supported $1 trillion in cuts and believes more cuts are needed, according to Rizzo.
"But we need to take a balanced approach that maintains commerce, keeps the economy growing and doesn't jeopardize our national security," he said.
Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican who worked on the super committee that examined budget issues last year, did not return correspondence seeking comment.
- Candy Woodall can also be reached at email@example.com.