Deep military cuts begin as Congress dawdles
January 31, 2013
by Tom Philpott
Congressional leaders appear to have
reach consensus that it is safer politically to allow deep and arbitrary
cuts to military budgets than it is to negotiate a large debt-reduction
deal that would have names attached.
With Republicans and Democrats
unwilling to make difficult decisions to address budget deficits in a
balanced way, the military is being forced to cut training, cancel
construction projects, defer maintenance of ships, aircraft and
vehicles, cancel professional conferences, halt most temporary duty
assignments, and interrupt supply and equipment purchases.
Quality of life for the military also
is being impacted as dependents lose jobs, local economies and
businesses lose contracts, and base operations, including family support
programs, take immediate budget cuts.
The entire Department of Defense has
imposed a civilian-hiring freeze. At least 46,000 temporary employees
are getting pink slips and many more employees under "term"contracts won’t see those
Gordon Adams, a national security
policy specialist with the Stimson Center and a senior White House
budget official in the last Clinton administration, said he is
"amazed"to watch congressional leaders, in
effect, "fold their hands"on trying to
prevent deeper defense cuts this year.
With the Iraq war ended and U.S. combat
forces scheduled to leave Afghanistan in 2014, defense "is not the
centerpiece"of the Capitol Hill budget argument. "The
centerpiece is the overall federal budget and [tax] revenue...This is
leadership driven. The armed services committees are almost irrelevant,
which is very unusual."
Even as Defense officials and military
leaders ordered commands to take broad cost-cutting actions, they held
out hope Congress will come to share their concern and take two remedial
actions. One is to pass a defense appropriations bill for the fiscal
year that began last October, thus removing spending caps imposed by
operating through March under continuing budget resolution. The
resolution freezes their budgets just below 2012 levels.
Service officials now fear Congress
intends to extend the continuing resolution through September. If so, at
a minimum, they seek authority to "reprogram"or transfer money
between accounts to fully fund their highest priorities to sustain
operations and protect readiness.
Second, Defense officials want Congress
to swiftly reach a deficit reduction deal and avoid budget
sequestration, which as adjusted during the Jan. 1 fiscal cliff deal,
would still impose an eight percent cut across 2500 separate defense
programs. Sequestration was a scheme Congress concocted in 2011 to scare
itself into a debt deal. It has failed.
Effective Feb. 15, the Navy will cancel
private-sector contracts for ship maintenance in the last half of fiscal
2013, impacting 10 ships in Norfolk, Va., 10 more in San Diego and one
ship apiece in New London, Conn., Bremerton, Wash., and Jacksonville,
Fla. This alone will save an estimated $600 million.
"The way we have tried to manage this is to protect
forward deployed readiness so that are ships, aircraft and sailors
forward deployed can continue to do what they need to do. Their mission
won’t be affected,"said Rear Adm. John
Kirby, Navy chief of information, in a phone interview.
The next goal is to protect training
and readiness for "next-to-deploy forces."That might not be
possible, however, if Congress allows sequestration to take effect, as
rescheduled, on March 1, Kirby warned.
Operating under a continuing resolution
popped a $4.6 billion hole in Navy operations and maintenance budgets.
Sequestration would expand that hole by $4 billion, explained Adm.
Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, in fleet-wide message
Jan. 25. The Navy would have to stop all deployments to the Caribbean
and South America; limit European deployments to ballistic missile
defense ships only, and cut steaming and flying hours across the fleet.
A majority of ships and aircraft preparing for deployment would see
stateside training, flying and steaming operations end, he warned,
unless fleet commanders find other budget offsets.
That word "unless"in
Greenert’s guidance is significant, Adams said. Like the
other services, Adams argued, Navy paints worst-case scenarios for
operating under a continuing budget resolution through September and
taking the additional sequestration hit. When actually forced to take
those cuts, Adams said, sequestration would allow flexibility in how
operations and maintenance dollars get chopped. The service can, for
example, target personnel service contracts, which have ballooned over a
decade of war.
from cutting the grass at Fort Belvoir to serving the food at Bagram Air
Base,"Adams said. "That’s an
area, given our departure from Iraq and coming out of Afghanistan, that
ought to be a low priority."
The Army’s own
mitigation"budget guidance directs a 30-percent cut in base
operations support to include "reduced levels of
installation service delivery and reduced new and current
contracts"for the same. To help to implement this, Army leaders
promise further guidance "on the use of
soldiers to perform installation functions."
"That’s where you
can manage"priorities, Adams said. "You might actually
have a soldier pushing a lawnmower at Fort Belvoir come
Congress seems resigned to allow
sequestration, he said, in part because it’s easier than
reaching a balanced budget deal and in part because lawmakers recognize
the military is in a post-war drawdown, a period when taking deep
spending cuts is natural, particularly for ground forces.
Kirby countered that the Navy
isn’t drawing down, however.
"All by itself the continuing resolution is going to have
a readiness impact. Those ships will have to get maintenance sooner or
later, and it is probably going to cost more. Just like maintenance on
your car, defer it and when you finally get it into the garage
you’re probably going to need more work than you originally
needed and it will cost you more"
"The other cost is time,"Kirby
continued. "If you had that ship scheduled for deployment in 2014
or ’15, now it will not be achievable because of needed
maintenance. There’s a real
Write Military Update, P.O. Box
231111, Centreville, VA, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter: Tom Philpott