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Cuts Would Mean Absorbing More Risk, Press Secretary Says

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2013 – If the large and sudden spending cuts called sequestration begin as scheduled March 1, military readiness and national security will suffer immediately, hurting the Defense Department and the nation, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.

During Pentagon news conference, Little said sequestration will require DOD to absorb more risk to national security, which at some point in the budget-cutting process will become intolerable level of risk.

“What you've heard from DOD leaders over the past few weeks is not hype. It's the blunt truth,” he said. “It isn't exaggeration. It's a clear-eyed assessment of what would happen to the department if we are forced to put this mindless mechanism fully into place.”

Under the guidance of Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, he added, “the department's leaders have been candid and forthright in describing how the military would operate in a post-sequester world.”

During Panetta’s trip last week to Brussels to meet with his fellow NATO defense ministers, the press secretary said, U.S. allies and partners raised the issue of sequestration and expressed concern about what the secretary called the United States’ “political dysfunction.”

“This should not have to be an issue that we're discussing with our allies and partners. This is something that we should be able to fix on our own,” Little said. “We are the world's leading military power, and people look to this country for leadership. We are not exercising leadership right now in this city, and that is deeply problematic.”

If sequestration does go into effect, DOD will have to cut from March 1 until the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year about $46 billion from the level of funding provided on the fiscal year 2013 continuing resolution. The continuing resolution is funding the Defense Department in the absence of a budget that Congress and President Barack Obama can agree on.

By law, Little said, the sequester will apply to the entire DOD budget, including wartime spending, but excluding all military personnel funding, thanks to an exemption that Obama said he would grant. The DOD current estimate, Little added, is that the cuts will amount to 9 percent.

The law also mandates that the cuts be applied in a rigid, across-the-board manner, account by account, item by item, the press secretary said.

“For the investment portions of the budget,” he added, “the dollar cuts must be allocated at a line-item level of detail. That means more than 2,500 programs or projects that are separately identified as line items [must] be reduced by the same percentage.”

And operating under a continuing resolution adds to DOD’s difficulties this fiscal year, Little noted.

“While the CR provides the right level of overall funding for DOD, the dollars are in the wrong appropriations accounts,” he explained. “Compared to our needs for the current fiscal year, the CR provides too much funding in most investment accounts and not enough funding in operation and maintenance accounts to sustain day-to-day operations and military readiness.

“If this imbalance in the CR is not corrected and sequester hits the department, the result will be a huge shortfall in operations and maintenance accounts for active forces,” he continued. “Across DOD, we will be short more than 20 percent of total requirements for operating funds, and the percentage will be closer to 40 percent for the U.S. Army.”

The shortfall means the Army will have to sharply cut training, leaving most of its nondeployed combat brigade teams below readiness standards. The same is true for Air Force combat units, and the Navy and Marine Corps also will have to slash readiness, Little said.

The Navy recently elected to reduce the number of carriers deployed to the Persian Gulf to avoid the risk of being so short on operating dollars that it could not deploy carriers during a future period, he added.

“The prospect of these cuts led the chairman, the vice chairman, and all the Joint Chiefs to recently sign a 28-star letter stating, ‘The readiness of our armed forces is at a tipping point. We are on the brink of creating a hollow force,’” Little said.

The sequester problem can be solved only if Congress passes a balanced deficit-reduction package and appropriations bills that the president can sign, the press secretary observed. This would de-trigger sequestration.

To fix the problem of funding DOD through a continuing resolution, the president and Congress would have to agree to a fiscal 2013 budget.

“Our department's leaders have a responsibility to continue to make that case to congressional leadership and to the American people,” Little said.

The press secretary also addressed comments from observers who have said that department’s leaders are exaggerating the threat from sequestration and that the looming budget cuts won’t be that destructive.

“It's easy to say that we should go back to 2006 levels or to 2002 levels or to 1992 levels,” he said. “That's a math exercise. What we've done is a strategic exercise. We have put the [2012 defense] strategy in front of how we tailor savings over the next 10 years.”

Over the past 15 months or so, department leaders have been trying to define the priorities going forward in light of threats and challenges, and the investments needed for the future, Little added.

“Right now we still have threats from North Korea and from Iran, from terrorists and from cyber actors around the world,” the press secretary said. “It's not like we're going from a large-threat environment to a no-threat environment,” he added. “We have new and sustained and evolving threats that we need to address, and I think that's an important distinction.”


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Special Report: Sequestration

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