An Obama administration decision to exempt military personnel programs from potential across-the-board budget cuts in January does not mean troops and their families would feel no impact from the budget process known as sequestration.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned of potential widespread effects.
For service members, retirees and families, Carter warned, reductions in health care funding would result in “delays in payments to service providers and, potentially, some denial of service” under the Tricare health care program.
Reductions in operating funds also would result in reduced operating hours for commissaries, and Carter warned that cuts in construction and maintenance funds would lead to delays in new construction and in repairs for existing buildings, including schools and medical centers.
Training would be cut for all of the services. Officials would try to minimize impact on deploying units by cutting more deeply into training for those not scheduled to deploy. “Some late-deploying units, including some deploying to Afghanistan, could receive less training, especially in the Army and Marine Corps. Under some circumstances, this reduced training could impact their ability to respond to a new contingency, should one occur,” Carter said.
Air Force flying hours “could be reduced by several hours a month, and Navy steaming days could decline by several days a quarter,” he said.
Lest anyone not fully grasp the implications, Carter emphasized: “The result will be reduced training and lower readiness.”
Funds for Defense Department civilian personnel are not protected from sequestration, he added.
“Although it is premature to describe in detail how sequester would impact the DoD work force, it might be necessary to impose a partial hiring freeze or unpaid furloughs,” he said.
The White House budget director, also appearing at the hearing, said sequestration would result in a 10 percent reduction in defense spending and an 8 percent cut in nondefense spending, reductions that “would indiscriminately impact all programs without regard to priorities or function.”
Jeff Zients, acting director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, said “no amount of planning will mitigate the effects.”
Carter had a similar message. “We cannot devise a plan that eliminates or even substantially mitigates” the harmful impact of cuts.
“Sequester denies rational planning,” he said. “It was designed to be irrational.”