Budget Outlook

DOD begins planning for fiscal cliff

Marching feet

The Defense Department warns that sequestration will harm troops returning from war and the programs they depend on. (Stock image by David Freund)

The Defense Department earlier this week received guidance from the Office for Management and Budget to officially begin planning for the spending cuts expected from sequestration, according to DOD.

“We are consulting with the Office of Management and Budget and have been instructed to pursue internal planning on sequestration,” George Little, DOD spokesman, said in a Dec. 5 press conference. “We are at the very start. We don’t have all of the details firmed up. Naturally, we hope very much that sequestration will be avoided. We don’t want to go off the fiscal cliff.”

Until now, DOD leadership, at least publicly, had continued its financial planning using the fiscal 2013 budget, which did not include the roughly 10 percent cuts sequestration is set to institute. Over the course of 10 years, the process would shave about $500 billion from DOD spending, in addition to $487 billion in spending reductions already planned.

Little said it is unlikely that the effects of sequestration, which was mandated in last year’s Budget Control Act as the consequence of the failure of a so-called "supercommittee" of lawmakers to agree on what could have been a more targeted set of budget cuts, will be felt immediately upon its Jan. 2 implementation. Instead, it is more probable there will be a period at the beginning of 2013 to sort out the specifics and implement new policies.

“We are going to have to do some detailed planning at some point on the numbers and the specific consequences of sequestration, which we’ve anticipated and already talked about,” Little said. “We expect in our planning efforts to identify not just numbers, but how we communicate to our 3 million-plus workforce, to prepare them for what may come down the pike.”

In a joint appearance with Secretary of Veteran's Affairs Eric Shinseki in Washington on Dec. 6, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has been vocal in his opposition to the measure, vowed that if leaders in Washington cannot come to an agreement halting sequestration it will have major impact on troops returning from war and the programs supporting them.

At a Dec. 3 appearance at National Defense University, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter described sequestration as “chaotic, wasteful, and damaging to every function of government and should not take place.”

Little echoed those comments at the Dec. 5 press conference, but did express some hope that a worst-case scenario may be avoided.

“If this is triggered, even in light of this absurd mechanism that was created to avoid absurdities, our intent is to not implement sequestration in an absurd way … inside the Department of Defense,” Little said. “Hopefully, Congress will come to resolution on sequestration, but we have looked at those impacts and will plan against them.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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