April 15, 2013
President Obama's fiscal 2014 budget plans have only confirmed some of the worst fears of defense industry analysts. The Pentagon's $526.6 billion budget request does not address government-wide budget cuts that started in fiscal 2013 and only continues ongoing uncertainty.
And while Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's list of changes would help shore up the Pentagon's finances, cuts to missile defense and other weapons, bases, military health coverage and other “entitlements” and the civilian and contractor workforce will open up a multifront war on Capitol Hill.
In 2011, Congress passed a law putting massive across-the-board budget cuts into effect to force lawmakers to reduce the federal deficit. From that time on, budget plans have hinged on the possibility that the White House might reach an agreement with lawmakers to reduce the deficit and prevent the cuts.
That is a big deal at the Pentagon, which spends the bulk of the government's so-called discretionary dollars. And with such a large budget, the Defense Department drafts its spending plans five years at a time.
Making up for the damage caused by sequestration, the mechanism for the across-the-board cuts, will cost money, indicates Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We've already curtailed or canceled training for many units across the services, specifically those not preparing to deploy,” Dempsey says. “And it's more expensive to get ready than it is to stay ready. Recovery costs will compete with costs to build the future joint force.”
Even if Congress reached a deal this week to stop sequestration from continuing, the Pentagon would have to mitigate its effects, and at this point, its accounting staff is already spread thin.
First, they had to plan for a full-year continuing resolution. Congress resolved that issue by passing a full-year spending bill to fund the military from the end of March until the end of the fiscal year. That leaves the Pentagon accountants now planning fiscal 2013 a second time, while they are rolling out the fiscal 2014 budget and working on a major reprogramming action that will help mitigate the turmoil from the first months of the year. “We are flat-out stressed in the financial planning,” says Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale. “We have not yet begun a get-well plan.”