Driven by the dual threat of operating under a continuing resolution and a potential sequestration, the U.S. Air Force has issued guidance for immediate actions to cut its budget.
In a Jan. 14 memorandum to all major commands, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer and Acting Undersecretary of the Air Force Jamie Morin laid out a series of “near-term actions” that the service will undertake to minimize the impact of budget stress on the Air Force, which is already operating under fiscal 2012 funding levels and faces larger cuts if no agreement is reached in Congress on a sequestration deal.
“The combined impact of two sources of budgetary uncertainty necessitates that the Air Force take immediate action to reduce our expenditure rate, especially in our operations and maintenance account,” wrote Spencer and Morin.
Among the steps in the memo:
Civilian hiring restrictions, including a hiring freeze, the “immediate” elimination of temporary employees and the non-renewal of term hire employees, with exceptions for mission-critical activities.
A review of requirements for overseas contingency operations to identify potential reductions.
The cancellation of non-mission critical events, such as training seminars and attendance at conferences, as well as studies that are not congressionally directed or mission critical.
“Minor purchases,” such as furniture and IT equipment, should stop, and facility work, such as painting or remodeling, should be deferred.
Additionally, flying events, such as air shows and flyovers, should be curtailed — days before a long weekend that will feature two NFL playoff games and a number of Martin Luther King Jr. Day events.
The possibility of civilian furloughs of up to 22 workdays was also included in the memo. The Office of Management and Budget suggested furloughs and hiring freezes for all federal agencies in a Jan. 14 memo in the face of potential sequestration.
The memo notes that planning for budget cuts will continue in case Congress fails to reach an agreement on sequestration before the March deadline.
“These near-term actions only achieve a small portion of the funding decrement required in the event of sequestration or a significant topline reduction,” wrote Spencer and Morin. “Therefore, if we do not have resolution by March, immediate actions with serious negative impacts to core readiness programs will be required.”
The Air Force is not alone in recommending measures to reduce the budget. All four services have issued similar memos, following guidance from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
One day later, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told reporters that the recommendations were necessary because of the “budget gymnastics” ongoing in Congress, which has not passed an appropriations bill for 2013, leaving spending frozen at 2012 budget levels. At the same time, sequestration, which calls for more than $500 billion in cuts over 10 years and between $45 billion and $48 billion in 2013, is scheduled to begin in March.
“We can no longer live under the uncertainty of sequestration and a continuing resolution without taking action now,” Donley said.
But while acknowledging that the service faces hard choices, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh denied seeking a specific dollar amount to cut.
“We’re not targeting particular dollar amounts, there’s nothing we can do in the next two months, or in the next nine months, the remainder of the fiscal year, to mitigate the impact of sequestration,” Welsh said. “So there are no particular targets. It is simply prudent management steps to start adjusting the way we spend dollars so we literally do not fall off our own cliff created by this sequestration problem.”