For the last 29 years, thousands of members of the nation’s armed services have sailed into New York Harbor every May to mark the city’s annual Fleet Week celebration. But this year, due to the federal budget sequestration, much of the party may be off.
The U.S. Navy announced this week it would comply with a Defense Department directive putting a hold on optional armed forces events around the country in order to comply with sequestration—across-the-board federal spending cuts that have slashed billions of dollars from the military’s annual budget.
“No branch of the armed forces may participate in community relations or outreach events that come at additional cost to the government or rely on anything other than local assets,” Beth Baker, a spokeswoman for the Navy’s Mid-Atlantic region, told Yahoo News. “That includes participation in Fleet Week.”
The announcement was a swift change in policy for the Navy. An official earlier this week said New York City’s Fleet Week celebration, set to kick off on May 23, was still on, in spite of reports that other celebrations around the country—including events in San Diego, Fort Lauderdale and San Francisco—were being dramatically scaled back.
That has left Navy and city officials scrambling to figure out how to salvage the week. According to Baker, the Defense directive means that only local personnel will likely be able to participate in Fleet Week, a dramatic change from celebrations in the past.
Last year, 31 ships sailed into the harbor to mark Fleet Week 2012, bringing upwards of 6,000 members of the armed forces into New York City. The Blue Angels flew over the harbor as ships sailed in—something that had been expected to occur again this year. But on Tuesday, the Navy grounded its flight team for rest of the year because of budget cuts.
According to the Navy, it costs its branch between $7 million and $10 million every year to support Fleet Week in New York City—including the cost of renting dock space.
Baker said the Navy is working “very closely” with city officials to figure out how to keep Fleet Week going.
“We’d love to go to New York City and be there for this celebration over Memorial Day weekend,” she said. “Memorial Day is important to the city, and it’s important to us. We want to try and see what we can do.”