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Korean employees at US bases there could be furloughed in April without cost-sharing agreement

Korean nationals are receiving notices they could be furloughed from their jobs at U.S. bases April 1 if the U.S. and the Republic of Korea can’t hash out a host-nation support agreement to offset the stationing costs of more than 28,000 U.S. troops.

The 2019 Special Measures Agreement required South Korea to contribute nearly $1 billion as part of the cost-sharing deal, but it expired Dec. 31 and the Trump administration is urging South Korea to contribute even more in 2020.

Meanwhile, leftover funds are running out. As a result, U.S. Forces Korea said it’s providing Korean employees on U.S. bases with a heads up that they could be furloughed.

“Due to the 2019 Special Measures Agreement lapse and the continued absence of a subsequent agreement, United States Forces Korea began providing Korean National employees today with a 60-day notice of a potential administrative furlough that could occur on April 1, 2020, absent an agreed upon SMA,” said U.S. Forces Korea in a Jan. 28 statement.

“Without the Republic of Korea’s continued commitment to share the cost of employing our Korean National workforce, USFK will soon exhaust programmed funds available to pay their salaries and wages,” the statement said.

U.S. Forces Korea said all notices to 9,000 Korean National employees will be issued before Jan. 31.

Retired Adm. Harry Harris, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, had signaled Jan. 16 that furlough notices to Korean employees would be distributed imminently if a deal wasn’t met, Bloomberg reported.

Retired Army Col. David Maxwell, who has several decades of military service in Asia, said furloughing Korean employees would jeopardize readiness. For example, base services and military units would require service members to provide “borrowed military manpower” to conduct assignments that are “outside their normally assigned duties and units.”

“Unit training and readiness will be impacted,” Maxwell told Military Times Jan. 25.

President Donald Trump has regularly discussed his desire for allies to hike their contributions to support U.S. troops, and tweeted in August 2019 that South Korea is a “very wealthy nation that now feels an obligation to contribute to the military defense provided by the United States of America.” He also said in February 2019 that South Korea was costing the U.S. $5 billion a year.

U.S. officials have not publicly announced how much they want South Korea to contribute as part of a Special Measures Agreement, however, multiple media outlets reported in November the U.S. was seeking $4.7 billion in host-nation support. That’s nearly five times the amount South Korea contributed under the previous agreement.

As it is, Seoul shelled out $70 million more in 2019 than it did in 2018 for host-nation support.

Separately, South Korea also footed the bill for the majority of building the U.S. Army’s Camp Humphreys. According to Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, former USFK commander, South Korea paid for approximately 90 percent of the $10.8 billion project.

While a potential furlough wouldn’t happen until April, the failure to reach an agreement is already having a ripple effect on base operations. Camp Humphreys, the largest U.S. base overseas, issued a warning last week that U.S. soldiers should expect some delays in services because of the impasse.

“Due to the Special Measures Agreement lapse and implementation of [U.S.Forces Korea] austerity measures, including cessation of overtime pay for Korean National employees, USAG Humphreys will experience some delays to certain installation services, most notably post office hours and after-hours work performed by the Directorate of Public Works,” Camp Humphreys officials wrote in a Facebook post on Jan. 24.

So far, Camp Humphreys has said, “all matters involving life, health and safety will continue without interruption,” such as fire and emergency services.

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