Secretary details results of sequestration uncertainty

Soldier and Marine training, Air Force flying hours and Navy steaming days are being curtailed thanks to the $47 billion in cuts Department of Defense must make before Sept. 30, 2013, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said March 1.

The secretary stressed at the start of his first press conference as Defense Secretary that the uncertainty caused by sequestration “puts at risk our ability to effectively fulfill all of our missions.”

He was joined by Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and both men said that if sequestration is allowed to continue through the end of the fiscal year, the effects will become much worse.

The department will continue to adjust to the fiscal realities, Hagel said. He and Carter had just met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the “Tank” — the chiefs’ secure conference room — to speak about the consequences of sequestration.

“Leadership in the Pentagon … [has] two serious concerns: first, the abrupt and arbitrary cuts imposed by sequester; and second, the lack of budget management flexibility that we now face under the current continuing resolution,” Hagel said.

The department has already had to cut funding for readiness, he said. “As sequester continues, we will be forced to assume more risk, with steps that will progressively have far-reaching effects,” the secretary said.

Starting in April, the Navy will gradually stand down at least four air wings, he said. “Effective immediately, Air Force flying hours will be cut back,” Hagel said. “This will have a major impact on training and readiness.”

The Army will curtail training for all units except those deploying to Afghanistan, he said, noting that this means an end to training for nearly 80 percent of Army operational units.

“Later this month, we intend to issue preliminary notifications to thousands of civilian employees who will be furloughed,” Hagel said. The department has about 800,000 civilian employees and the vast majority of them face losing 20 percent of their pay through the end of September. Sequestration comes on top of $487 billion in cuts defense agreed to under the Budget Control Act over the next decade.

In anticipation of sequester, in January the department began to slow spending. The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman did not deploy to the Persian Gulf as scheduled, and the department looked to hiring freezes and layoffs of temporary and term employees.

The service chiefs announced cuts to facilities maintenance and contract delays.

“If sequester continues and the continuing resolution is extended in its current form, other damaging effects will become apparent,” Hagel said. “Our number one concern is our people — military and civilian — the millions of men and women of this department who work very hard every day to ensure America’s security.”

The department needs some fiscal certainty, the secretary said, and DOD leaders will continue to work with Congress to help resolve this uncertainty. “Specifically, we need a balanced deficit reduction plan that leads to an end to sequestration,” he said.

“And we need Congress to pass appropriations bills for DOD and all federal agencies.”