The across-the-board cuts known as sequestration are scheduled to kick in on Jan. 2, forcing the department to chop its spending by about $54.7 billion in fiscal 2013 on top of cuts already being carried out under a broad budget deficit-reduction deal enacted into law in August 2011.
Paired with a matching cut in spending on non-defense domestic programs, this would be the first installment of a 10-year, $1.2 trillion reduction in previously projected spending plans.
The idea behind sequestration was to prod ideologically opposed lawmakers into a more thoughtful, targeted way to curb annual budget deficits that have topped $1 trillion in recent years.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has urged Congress to call off the automatic spending cuts, going so far as warning last year that it was a “crazy doomsday mechanism” and “goofy meat-axed approach” that would have a devastating impact on national security.
Asked by Reuters about such comments, Hale said they were based on a fear of the inflexible nature of the sequester law before the OMB instructions that he read as more flexible.
The Sept. 14 OMB report cited by Hale says on its first page that, with the sole exception of military personnel accounts, the administration “cannot choose which programs to exempt, or what percentage cuts to apply” if the automatic spending cuts kick in.
“The administration does not support these cuts, but unless Congress acts responsibly, there will be no choice but to implement them,” the OMB report said.
Asked to comment on any discrepancy, a spokeswoman for Hale’s office said there was none.