Sequestration ‘Wolf’ Eats at Nation’s Readiness, Carter Says
By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 13, 2013 “The wolf is at the door,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter told members of the House Armed Services committee today during testimony on the effects of sequestration – major, across-the-board spending cuts that will take effect March 1 unless Congress finds an alternative.
For 16 months, Carter said, he and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta have used the word "devastating" when describing the potential effects of sequestration on the Defense Department.
“That was then,” he said. Now, with sequestration just over two weeks away, the nation faces a readiness crisis, Carter said. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the consequences of sequester,” he added. If sequestration is not averted, on March 1 the department will have to subtract $46 billion from the funds it planned to have available for the rest of this fiscal year, the deputy secretary said.
Compounding the problem of sequestration and its attendant $500 billion in across-the-board defense cuts is the continuing resolution now funding the government in place of a budget, he said.
“The continuing resolution's a different problem,” Carter said. Because an appropriations bill was not signed last year, some accounts are underfunded, he explained, while others have a surplus. “There's enough money in the continuing resolution,” he added. “It's in the wrong accounts.”
In particular, there isn't enough in the operations and maintenance accounts, Carter said. Funding for Afghanistan will be protected, he told the panel, as will that for urgent operational needs and wounded warrior programs. In addition, Carter noted, military personnel expenses have been exempted by the president from sequestration.
But in the long term, Carter told the committee, sequestration will mean the department will be forced to discard the national security strategy it devised last year.
The Defense Department recognizes the role it plays in helping the nation address its fiscal situation, Carter said. “We have already cut $487 billion from our budget plans over the next 10 years,” he noted. “I also understand that the taxpayer deserves a careful use of the defense dollar.”
But, both a strategic approach to reducing the budget and good use of the taxpayer money are endangered by the chaos of the current situation, Carter said, and the abruptness and size of the cuts.
What's particularly tragic, he said, is that sequestration is not the result of an economic recession or emergency or because discretionary spending cuts are the answer for the nation’s fiscal challenges.
“All this is purely the collateral damage of political gridlock,” he said, “and for our troops, for the force, the consequences are very real and very personal.”
The department will not have enough money to train its service members, Carter said. It will have to furlough a majority of its civilian employees, likely for 22 days between the beginning of April and the end of the year -- the maximum statutory length of time, he said.
“So there's a real human impact here,” Carter said. “I'm a presidentially appointed civilian, and I can't be furloughed, but I'm going to give back a fifth of my salary … at the end of the year, because we're asking all those people who are furloughed to give back a fifth of their salary.”
Sequestration’s impact also will be felt by industry, Carter said.
“The quality of the weapons produced by our defense industry is second only to the quality of our people in uniform in making our military the greatest in the world,” he said. “As such, a technologically vibrant and financially successful defense industry is in the national interest.”
But sequestration and other budget uncertainty may make companies less willing to invest in defense, he said.
“The cloud of uncertainty hanging over our nation's defense affairs is already having a lasting effect,” Carter said. “Ultimately, the cloud of sequestration needs to be dispelled, and not just moved to the horizon.
“The world is watching,” he continued. “Our friends and allies are watching, [as are] potential foes all over the world. And they need to know that we have the political will to implement the defense strategy we need.”