The fiscal uncertainty that continues to engulf Washington could delay the submission of the U.S. Defense Department’s 2014 budget proposal, according to a senior Pentagon official.
With funding levels for 2013 still up in the air despite being more than three months into the fiscal year, DoD might not be able to submit a 2014 budget next month.
Typically, DoD and the rest of the federal government submit a budget proposal to Congress in early February. Will that happen this year?
“[We] don’t know yet,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said on Jan. 3. “We’re working that through right now … with [the White House Office of Management and Budget].”
Little’s comments are the first from a senior official that question DoD’s ability to submit a budget along the customary timeline. Still, he did not rule out the Pentagon’s ability to produce a spending plan next month.
“I think we could submit a budget in February,” Little said. “I’m not ruling that out, but we need to define what the timeline is in the coming days and weeks.”
Earlier this week, the White House and Congress reached a deal to avert tax increases for the majority of American citizens. But cuts to DoD and other federal agencies — know as sequestration — were delayed two months in hopes lawmakers and President Barack Obama could agree on a comprehensive plan to reduce the federal deficit.
If the two sides are not able to strike a deal, DoD would get hit with a $63 billion cut to its 2013 budget.
Congress and the White House’s inability to reach a deal to lower the federal deficit has extended a period of fiscal uncertainty that has loomed over the Pentagon for more than a year.
“This is a real problem,” Little said. “If we don’t have a rational process to follow, then unfortunately, we can sometimes find ourselves in irrational circumstances that lead to damaging outcomes.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been pressing lawmakers since 2011 to come up with a deficit-reduction plan that does not take money away from DoD, which has already cut $487 billion from planned spending over the next decade. Sequestration would add an additional $500 billion to the cut over the same period.
“We’re entering a phase of serious planning [for sequestration],” Little said. “We don’t want sequester to go into effect. This is bad for everyone.”
While Panetta is pleased sequestration — which was supposed to begin on Jan. 2 — has been delayed, he and other senior defense officials have been working the phones to “senior members of Congress” reiterating the consequences of those spending cuts, which would lead to widespread furloughs of DoD civilian employees to pay for combat operations. Military pay is exempt from sequestration.