Pentagon airbrushes details of sequestration continuing for another year

DoD/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, center, talks with U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran, left, and Carl Levin April 10, 2013, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.

Article Highlights

  • Even when particulars are provided, they are piecemeal, difficult to interpret and offered in a trickle.

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  • Denial as a sequester strategy backfired in 2013

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  • Policymakers should not allow Pentagon officials to avoid the detailed work that is required now to execute sequestration should it continue into next fiscal year.

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After waiting for over two months, Congress is surely wondering where the detail they requested is within the Pentagon letter outlining the effects of continued sequestration into next year.

This is particularly disturbing given that sequestration has been underway for all federal agencies for over four months now. Yet Pentagon leaders continue to airbrush the consequences of sequestration’s impact. Even when particulars are provided, they are piecemeal, difficult to interpret and offered in a trickle.

Denial as a sequester strategy backfired in 2013. Continuing the political gamble would only make sequestration’s continuation doubly painful – unnecessarily so – if repeated in 2014.

Today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told Congress little of note in his official response to the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding the impact of sequestration for a second year.

The bottom line, according to the Secretary, is that the penalties of sequestration in effect today will be magnified and worsened next year. He noted, for example, that the modernization accounts will take a disproportionate hit under continued sequestration, hurting needed programs and harming US jobs. But sequestration and ongoing defense budget cuts have already disproportionately hit modernization more than other priorities.

The Secretary also said that civilian furloughs would continue along with a hiring freeze and that he might have to consider forced reductions in this workforce.

Training, maintenance and readiness would also continue to be harmed. Accidents could increase. Recruiting and retention would surely be injured. He cited as examples

  • Flight hour reductions for two Navy air wings;
  • Reduced readiness for special operations forces;
  • Additional cancelled rotations at the Army’s national training centers; and
  • Grounded active duty flying units would grow from 1/3 of the Air Force to more than one-half. 

 

Military construction and base maintenance would be again delayed. Active duty forces and their families would be affected through involuntary separations, reduced bonus opportunities, frozen promotions, halted accessions, and deferred moves to new military jobs.

Repeatedly, the Secretary of Defense did not pass up the opportunity to take Congress to task for exacerbating the military’s current budget woes. He reminded members that they have two critical roles in this process going forward by:

  • Helping alter sequestration through a “balanced approach” (presumably raising taxes and reforming the major entitlements); and,
  •  Reversing their rejection of virtually all of the cost-saving but unpopular proposals Pentagon leaders have put forward in recent years. These include limiting military pay raises, allowing base closures, early retirement of ships and aircraft, and letting health care premiums rise.

 

Now it is Congress’ turn to hold Pentagon leaders’ feet to the fire and demand an amended budget request to President Obama’s FY 2014 proposal that outlines the impact of continued sequestration on a line-item level. Policymakers should not allow Pentagon officials to avoid the detailed work that is required now to execute sequestration should it continue into next fiscal year.

Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow in the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies.

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