Pentagon ramping up for major cuts

Few people think sequestration will be averted a second time, and preparation is underway at the Defense Department.

capitol dome and bills

Congress is unlikely to avert sequestration again, DOD leaders believe. (Stock image)

Sequestration increasingly is looking like a reality, and the Defense Department as well as some lawmakers are taking more steps toward preparing for sweeping budget cuts set to hit March 1.

Government officials, including the deputy secretary of defense and the House Budget Committee chairman, now publicly state that sequestration likely is a reality, marking a departure from more than a year of hedging against the 10 percent across-the-board federal spending cuts.

"From what I hear, I have to conclude that it is more likely than unlikely that we’ll actually have to do this," said Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, according to Stars and Stripes. "We are serious about being ready."

Timeline

Key dates on the road to the fiscal cliff:

  •  Aug. 2, 2011: Budget Control Act of 2011 creates the "super committee," required to recommend more than $1 trillion in spending cuts.
  •  Nov. 21, 2011: Super committee gives up, triggering sequestration to take effect on Jan. 2, 2013.
  •  December 2012: Congress debates competing ideas to avert sequestration, with little apparent progress.
  •  Jan. 1-2, 2013: Congress passes, and Obama signs, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, delaying the cuts by two months.

Earlier in the week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also stated that sequestration likely will be triggered as lawmakers remain deadlocked on how to implement federal budget cuts that would prevent the mechanism, which already was delayed from taking effect Jan. 2.

"I think the sequester is going to happen," Ryan said Jan. 27 on NBC’s Meet the Press. "We think these sequesters will happen because the Democrats have rejected our efforts to replace those cuts with others and have offered no alternatives."

Sequestration threatens just as a continuing resolution funding the government through March nears expiration, which in the past has led Washington to the brink of government shutdowns. On Jan. 29, two lawmakers moved to prevent a shutdown from affecting military operations, introducing bipartisan legislation that exempts troops, civilian DOD personnel and mission-essential contractors from any loss of pay.

"Our men and women in uniform and our national security should not suffer if Congress is unable or unwilling to get the nation's fiscal house in order," said Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who co-sponsored the bill. "We need to protect our military and critical civilian workers from the painful consequences of a government shutdown, and we can’t allow either side to use troops as leverage in political disputes."

Federal guidance on planning for budget cuts has been trickling from the Office of Management and Budget downward, including from the Pentagon to the individual services. According to Inside Defense, OMB issued yet another planning tool: a "passback," or key budget guidance, for fiscal 2014. The 2014 budget already has been delayed; the passback is critical for finalizing the federal budget for the fiscal year.

"It indicates that OMB has a plan for the overall '14 budget and we respond to what they have given us," Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, Pentagon spokesperson, said. "It is not the final step in the budget process, of course, but it is a necessary step and a move towards a final budget request for the year."

There is no word on if the passback includes guidance specific to budget cuts that could be implemented in 2014.

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