For more than a year, the Obama administration refused to explain exactly how it would implement automatic spending cuts at the Pentagon — nor issue guidance to prepare for it — arguing it wouldn’t plan for something that was both devastating and wholly avoidable.
Again facing sequestration, debt and defense funding crises, the administration thankfully abandoned that approach last week, issuing guidance while outlining the gruesome impact of sequestration.
Absent a broad deficit reduction deal by March 1, Pentagon spending accounts — all except military manpower — will be subject to a $42 billion cut over the last six months of the fiscal year. Another $12 billion would come on top of that, once the continuing resolution now funding government operations expires on March 27.
In a series of letters and memos, the Joint Chiefs warned Congress of the dangers of the impending fiscal cliff, and the Army, Navy and Air Force issued guidance to shape cuts, including: a hiring freeze, elimination of temporary employees as contracts expire, and most dramatically, furloughs for DoD civilians, who would work four-day weeks — and lose 20 percent of their pay — for the last 22 weeks of the year. Flying hours for aircraft, steaming days for ships and other training would all be slashed, as would programs at every stage from research and development to production.
But as bad as sequestration will be, military leaders stressed that the March 27 expiration of the current continuing resolution — a temporary funding measure Congress passed in lieu of a budget — threatens to be even more devastating.
Republican House members said Jan. 18 they will agree to a three-month debt-limit extension, while demanding that the Senate pass a budget for the first time in four years to cover the remainder of the fiscal year. This, in turn, would pave the way for long-term deficit reduction talks. Senate Democrats welcomed the proposal, but only with a “clean” debt ceiling increase.
As in the past, initially positive overtures can lead to political dead ends.
While hope springs eternal that lawmakers will act responsibly, prudence demands DoD start planning for the worst in order to protect itself as best it can.