Sequestration was seldom spoken this fall, but averting the harmful across-the-board cuts must once again become a topic of conversation within the halls of Congress.
The Defense Department, which accounts for 20 percent of federal spending but is taking 50 percent of the sequestration cuts, must absorb $50 billion in reductions each year over 10 years. These restrictions, which hamstring our military, will return in fiscal 2016 unless Congress and the president take prompt action.
And while last year's budget compromise temporarily postponed the sequestration's most detrimental effects, it is now time to end the measure outright.
Cuts for their own sake are not the answer and actually harm us. They do not address the back of the office, but instead blunt the tip of the spear.
Sequestration's indiscriminate nature means DoD cannot make decisions about stemming fixed costs such as military health care on the personnel side or whether to maintain old and obsolete equipment and facilities on the operations side. As such, fixed costs become a larger portion of the overall budget at the expense of readiness.
Private sector companies would never act in similar fashion. Facing the equivalent of a 20 percent decline in revenues, no reasonable board of directors would stipulate that management exempt certain operating accounts, such as pay and benefits, maintain excess real property, or keep underutilized facilities to meet the cost targets.
Adjusting to lower levels of defense budget authority is expected, but sequestration is a bad business method for getting there. Across-the-board cuts do not work in big business; they spare the poorest performing elements from deeper cuts. It is better to apply best business practices to improve the business of defense.
Mismanagement aside, the real threat is readiness. As Christine Fox, former director of the Pentagon's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office, wrote in an op-ed last year, "The cumulative effect of all these sequester cuts is some combination of a military that is much smaller, much less technologically advanced and much less ready than we have been accustomed to over the last 30 years," — all while we combat evolving and thinking enemies.
Let us recall why the idea of sequestration arose. It was supposed to be the poison pill that would force lawmakers and the White House to reconcile the imbalances between government revenue and government spending. When that did not work, it became a cause in itself, a symbol of dysfunction and gridlock.
The new Congress should not be bound by lack of decision-making in the past.
From the Islamic State to consideration of a new defense secretary, there are a number of national security issues Congress will debate as the current session ends. And many of these issues will still need to be addressed when the new Congress takes office in January. Sequestration must be on the priority list.
Many re-elected and newly elected members are pledging to end the gridlock in Washington. They can start by coming together to end sequestration and tackling the well-understood challenge of managing fixed costs. ■
General Schwartz is President and CEO of Business Executives for National Security (BENS) and former Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. Mr. Mosler serves as Chairman of the BENS Board of Directors.