March 13, 2013
Credit: DoD photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, USAF
Senior defense officials said on Tuesday they were doing their best to offset the worst impacts of $46 billion in budget cuts that began this month, but they will have to slash personnel and weapons programs if reductions keep coming in future years.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told a conference of industry officials that the Pentagon was facing a “double absurdity” of having to implement across-the-board budget cuts generally seen as bad policy while being funded for last year’s spending levels and priorities.
“We’re in the absurd position that it is only lawful to build the ships we built last year,” Carter told a conference sponsored by defense consultant Jim McAleese and Credit Suisse.
Carter and other top Pentagon executives spoke amid a growing sense that the U.S. military will be hit with hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts over and above $487 billion in reductions already planned for the next decade.
The Defense Department was hit on March 1 with a $46 billion budget cut for this year, the first installment of $500 billion in new spending reductions facing the Pentagon over the next decade unless Congress and the White House agree to an alternative.
The department is also being squeezed by financial constraints imposed by the legislative mechanism Congress used to fund the government through March 27. Unable to reach a budget deal, they passed a resolution that extended funding based on last year’s spending and priorities.
As a result, the Pentagon has more money for weapons programs than it requested but is facing a multibillion-dollar shortfall for operations and maintenance. Pentagon officials are urging Congress to give them an appropriation that would shift the funding into the right accounts for this year’s priorities.
But even if Congress gives the department flexibility in making this year’s cuts, it has given no sign that it plans to avert the rest of the $500 billion in cuts over the next decade.
Christine Fox, director of the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, said the department would have to look at the affordability of every one of its programs in order to make cuts of that magnitude and “it is not going to be pretty.”