The former top commander at Robins Air Force Base says tension is growing in the defense industry as budget talks stall in Washington.
Retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon stepped down in June, and now heads the non-profit 21st Century Partnership that advocates for the base and its associated employers.
Threat of automatic spending cuts due to take effect January 2 is already slowing business between base officials and defense contractors that together account for the bulk of local employment, McMahon said.
"There is a bias towards not taking action right now until we know exactly what's going to occur," he said. "I think there's a fear among all elements to the defense sector that if something does take place after [January 2nd], we don't want to be in the midst of something and then have to try and cut it off."
Service member salaries would be exempt from the automatic cuts, but about half of the employees at Robins are civilian contractors whose jobs could be threatened immediately.
It's likely that some employees would be furloughed soon after the New Year if lawmakers fail to reach a budget deal, with permanent staff cuts to follow, McMahon said.
McMahon said he's open to cuts, and that the greatest threat to national security is not Al-Qaeda, China, or North Korea, but the nation's debt crisis; not the near-term "fiscal cliff" but the long term slide toward national insolvency.
But, McMahon said, it's all in the way you plan for them.
The Obama administration has already directed the Pentagon to draw $487 billion in cuts from projected spending increases over the next 10 years. "Now, if we go over the cliff, there will be an additional $500 billion absorbed by the Department of Defense, none of which in particular for 13 or 14 has yet been planned, and so the impact of that becomes catastrophic," McMahon said.