WASHINGTON — The Pentagon might be forced to cut up to 20 percent of its procurement and research-and-development budget should federal spending caps remain in place through 2014, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told lawmakers Wednesday.
Hagel, in an eight-page letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., lobbied against sequestration caps, which would cut $52 billion from DoD’s $527 billion 2014 budget request.
“I strongly oppose cuts of that magnitude because, if they remain in place for FY 2014 and beyond, the size, readiness and technological superiority of our military will be reduced, placing at much greater risk the country’s ability to meet our current national security commitments,” Hagel said. “This outcome is unacceptable as it would limit the country’s options in the event of a major new national security contingency.”
DoD had to cut about $37 billion from its 2013 budget due to sequestration. The cuts have curtailed military training and prompted furloughs of hundreds of thousands of DoD civilian employees. As mandated by the Budget Control Act, Pentagon officials chopped about 10 percent from each budget account in 2013 due to sequestration. Military personnel accounts are exempt.
These cuts are “severely damaging military readiness,” Hagel said. This will continue, the defense secretary said, even if DoD has the flexibility to tailor spending cuts in 2014.
“The difficulty of substantially reducing military personnel funding in FY 2014 would likely require disproportionately large cuts in the department’s investment accounts — assuming flexibility in implementing changes, cuts of 15 to 20 percent would be common,” Hagel said. “The resulting marked slowdown in modernization would reduce our long-term, critically important and historic technological superiority and undermine our better buying power initiatives.”
The investment accounts are the combination of procurement and research-and-development coffers. DoD has requested $166.8 billion in procurement and R&D for 2014. A 15 percent cut amounts to $25 billion and a 20 percent cut is more than $33 billion.
Hagel also said tough budget-cutting measures could be softened if Congress would go along with initiatives to reduce personnel costs.
Immediate reaction to the letter was muted on Capitol Hill. The House is focused on energy and water legislation, and what to do about an immigration reform bill recently sent over by the Senate. The upper chamber is plodding toward action on a student loan bill.
Still, some members took quick notice of Hagel’s letter.
House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in a statement that Hagel’s letter shows Congress should kill the planned cuts.
“Secretary Hagel’s letter to Sens. Levin and Inhofe echoes that sentiment regarding sequestration’s impact on defense, and it points out that, if Congress does not act, sequestration will continue to damage military readiness,” Smith said. “Congress must end sequestration and pass a reasonable approach to reducing federal deficits.”
Inhofe indicated he wanted more specifics from Pentagon brass, adding the letter shows a “hollow” military is being created.
“While I would have liked more details, Sec. Hagel’s response makes clear that the devastation of sequester budget cuts will only be amplified beyond what we have experienced thus far,” said Inhofe.
“As I predicted, sequestration is leading to the hollowing out of our military and if the Department of Defense’s sequestration is not averted for future years, we will move beyond furloughs and programmatic reductions to firing personnel and canceling our critical weapons programs.”
John T. Bennett contributed to this report.