Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has warned Congress of the damage further sequester cuts would cause the military. (File)
The Pentagon faces “draconian actions,” including civilian layoffs and suspension of military recruiting, if automatic budget cuts continue into 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned in a letter to Senate leaders.
Military training and weapons buying would also suffer if the Pentagon has to absorb an additional $52 billion in budget cuts, according to Hagel. The automatic cuts, known as the sequester, began March 1 when the White House and Congress failed to reach a deal on the nation’s long-term debt.
“If the cuts continue, the (Pentagon) will have to make sharp cuts with far-reaching consequences, including limiting combat power, reducing readiness and undermining the national security interests of the United States,” Hagel wrote to Sens. Carl Levin and James Inhofe, the top Democrat and Republican on the Armed Services Committee.
Todd Harrison, a military budget expert at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, called Hagel’s letter “disappointing.” Harrison said its sparse detail reflects a lack of serious planning.
“What this letter shows is more posturing than planning,” Harrison said. “It’s likely to be completely ineffective in persuading Congress.”
The Pentagon has handled about $45 billion in sequester cuts in its 2013 budget by furloughing civilian employees and reducing military training and maintenance on equipment. Those cuts have reduced the military’s readiness to respond to a crisis, Hagel and other leaders have said.
The Pentagon is seeking $526 billion for its 2014 budget year, which begins in October.
Cutting an additional $52 billion “would reduce deployable U.S. combat power” because of reductions in training, Hagel wrote. Moreover, fewer training hours for pilots contributes to accidents.
The Pentagon “cried wolf” when those cuts were announced, Harrison said. The worst effects didn’t come to pass, he said, and that left Congress and the American public unconvinced that they were harmful. Yet some of those cuts, such as those in deferred maintenance, will have an effect in coming years, he said.
Focusing on vague, worst-case scenarios and failing to lay out specific cuts this time is not effective, Harrison said.
“The Pentagon is still stuck in same mode as last year, Harrison said. “Instead of doing difficult detailed planning, they’re relying on vague, nonspecific threats hoping spur Congress.”
Tom Vanden Brook reports for USA Today.