Deep, across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect March 1 would cause chaos for the Defense Department, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said in a televised interview yesterday.
Carter told Judy Woodruff on “PBS Newshour” that the department will do what it can to minimize disruptions should the cuts kick in, but it can do only so much.
“We don’t have a lot of flexibility, and we don’t have a lot of time in that regard,” Carter said.
A “sequestration” mechanism in budget law requires DOD to cut $46 billion in spending from March 1 until the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year unless Congress comes up with an alternative that would stop sequestration from triggering. This comes on top of $487 billion in defense spending reductions already programmed over 10 years, and Pentagon officials have noted that operating under continuing resolutions in the absence of a fiscal year budget complicates matters.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta notified Congress yesterday that the department is preparing to place almost all of its 800,000 civilian employees on unpaid furlough for one day a week through the rest of the fiscal year. These are not faceless bureaucrats who simply shuffle paper, Carter said.
“They repair our ships. They maintain our aircraft,” Carter said. “That’s who these people are, and 44 percent of them are veterans. It’s a terrible thing to have to deprive them of some of their income.”
If sequestration triggers, operations and maintenance — the primary funding that ensures readiness — will be particularly affected. The department will ensure units deploying to Afghanistan will receive the training needed to succeed. But this will rob other units readying for other missions, Carter said.
“That’s just a mathematical fact of doing sequester,” he added. “This is very damaging to national security.”
In planning for sequestration, the Navy already has postponed sending an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf to join one already there, to ensure there will be enough ready carriers to dispatch to other critical areas if required.
“In everything we do, we’re really trying to keep on protecting the country and delivering the defense under these circumstances,” Carter said.