Defense Budget

Hagel warns senators of 2014 budget dangers

soldiers using mobile device

America's military readiness could be at risk if the sequester isn't reversed, Defense Secretary says. (File photo)

In a July 10 letter to lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned of potentially dire threats to national security if Congress fails to reverse steep budget cuts for the 2014 fiscal year. (Read the letter.)

Hagel advised lawmakers that a potential $52 billion budget cut for fiscal 2014, which would be mandated under sequester spending caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, would continue to erode military readiness and weaken national defenses.

"I strongly oppose cuts of that magnitude because, if they remain in place for FY 2014 and beyond, the size, readiness and technological superiority of our military will be reduced, placing at much greater risk the country's ability to meet our current national security commitments," Hagel wrote in to Sens. Carl Levin and James Inhofe, the committee's chairman and ranking member, respectively. "This outcome is unacceptable as it would limit the country's options in the event of a major new national security contingency."

The secretary warned that "draconian actions" would be necessary to meet the budget-cut requirements. His comments stem from findings in the Strategic Choices and Management Review he directed earlier this year.

Such moves could include ongoing hiring freezes and layoffs as Defense Department officials seek to avert a second year of furloughs. Cutbacks in training and readiness could continue, and investments in areas such as research and development would also decline. DOD's sustained efforts in acquisition reform additionally would take a hit, he said.

"The department hopes to avoid a second year of furloughs of civilian personnel, but DOD will have to consider involuntary reductions in force to reduce civilian personnel costs," Hagel wrote. "The resulting slowdown in modernization would reduce our long-term, critically important and historic technological superiority and undermine our better buying power initiatives."

Hagel called on members of Congress to cooperate with the Pentagon, the White House and each other to help mitigate what he deemed to be serious adverse consequences. He urged congressional support for controversial measures proposed by President Barack Obama in his 2014 budget, including slowed growth in military pay raises, increased TRICARE fees and the retirement or cancelation of lower-priority weapons programs.

Hagel also asked Congress to eliminate restrictions on military drawdown timelines and firing practices to reduce poor-performing civilian personnel, and reiterated his push for another round of the Base Realignment and Closure Act.

Training and modernization remain poised to take the biggest hits in the 10 percent across-the-board cuts. Cutbacks in training programs already in place under this year's sequestration would have to continue or be accelerated, putting troops and citizens at greater risk, Hagel wrote. New programs would be hard-hit as well.

"DOD would be forced to sharply reduce funding for procurement, [research, development, testing and evaluation] and military construction. Indeed, cuts of 15 percent to 20 percent might well be necessary," Hagel said. "Marked cuts in investment funding, especially if they continue for several years, would slow future technology improvements and ay erode the technological superiority enjoyed by U.S. forces."

He also warned that cuts would spill over into private industry as purchases and acquisition plans would be interrupted and costs increased.

"Defense industry jobs would be lost and, as prime contractors pull back and work to protect their internal work forces, small businesses may experience disproportionately large job losses," Hagel wrote.

About the Author

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

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