Sequester puts RI's defense industry in line of fire

Dozens of private companies on Aquidneck Island depend on defense contracts for their highly specialized work. It's a pocket of jobs that represents $ 700 million in annual payroll.

The executive director of the Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance warns there may be drastic losses if the automatic government spending cuts occur on Friday.

Molly Donohue Magee said uncertainty over current Pentagon spending is already holding back investments and job hiring, and a recent survey of her membership said a rollback would cost thousands of jobs.

"With what's happening now and what they anticipate to happen through the end September, a 21 percent reduction in their workforce. So, if you extrapolate that across the 12,000 defense jobs, that could be over 2,500 workers who are furloughed or out of a job between now and September," Magee said.

She said the arbitrary nature of these sequester rollbacks are the problem.

"We understand that the defense budget needs to go down in the long range, but we need to have a plan that looks at it in the long range, not a whiplash effect that takes across the board cuts that happen immediately," Magee said.

Despite warning bells from her industry and state governments, it appears the sequester will be imposed later this week.

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said he hopes it will be addressed in March before a deadline at the end of the month.