U.S. defense officials will in coming weeks begin determining how individual weapon programs would be affected by a $500 billion, decade-long cut to planned spending.
The Defense Department has so far avoided doing impact estimates for those possible funding reductions down to the program level. But that will soon change, Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale told lawmakers Sept. 20.
Over the “next month or so,” defense budget officials will measure how those cuts would hit acquisition and other DoD programs. The cuts to planned spending would be carried out under a process known as sequester unless lawmakers pass a $1.2 trillion deficit-cutting plan or some kind of measure that voids or delays the cuts.
Pentagon officials “will wait as long as we can in hopes it won’t happen,” Hale said. “Be we won’t wait so long that we have this department unprepared if it does happen.”
The White House late last week released a congressionally mandated report that concludes the sequester cuts would force the Pentagon’s base budget to shrink by $54.7 billion; the department requested $525 billion for fiscal 2013. The White House report projects each nonexempt Pentagon account — such as procurement — would be trimmed by 9.4 percent.
There were few new details during the two-hour hearing from Pentagon brass about how the department would enact the reductions.
The service vice chiefs warned if the cuts happen they might have to alter procurement program plans by buying fewer models or slowing the rates at which they buy them. Both could cause prices to rise. They also warned the cuts would cause them to cancel or delay maintenance on existing combat and support platforms.
Because operations and maintenance accounts would be subject to the cuts, some training would be canceled.
Those two moves would leave certain segments of each service unprepared to carry out large-scale operations, the vice chiefs warned.
Notably, under questioning from a concerned Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer warned the service’s long-anticipated aerial tanker program could be at risk.
Spencer told Wilson his best “guess” is that if the Air Force has to revise the multibillion-dollar contract due to sequestration, tanker prime contractor Boeing might tell the service it could build fewer tankers or the same number at a slower rate. The firm also might charge the Air Force more if it reopens the contract, Spencer said.
During the session, Republican and Democratic members traded barbs about who is responsible for the possibility of the sequester cuts and for finding a way around them.
Democratic members largely opted against asking questions of the Pentagon officials after panel Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., questioned the goals of the hearing in a letter to Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.
Smith urged McKeon to make sure the hearing focused on “possible solutions to the urgent situation, rather than on restating the undesirable consequences of the impending self-imposed disaster that would occur should sequestration be implemented.”
McKeon said the hearing was needed to try and wring out of Pentagon officials more details about how they would enact the cuts.
Democratic members criticized House GOP leaders for plans to adjourn at week’s end and not return until after Election Day (Nov. 6). They said the lower chamber should stay in town and address a number of pressing issues, including sequestration.
GOP members shot back that the House already has passed five bills that would cancel the automatic reductions, and challenged the Senate to pass its own legislation. The Republicans also charged President Barack Obama has done little to strike a deal.
A clearly angry Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said of the president: “It’s time for him to lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way of this country.”