Defense budget chief: Sequester would have serious impact on civilians

Defense CFO Robert Hale Defense CFO Robert Hale Caitlin Fairchild/GovExec.com

Civilian personnel in the Defense Department will be "seriously affected" if a budget sequester takes effect next year, the Pentagon's top budget official said Tuesday.

There will be a "high probability" of both a hiring freeze and furloughs of current employees should Congress allow the sequestration process to go forward, said Robert Hale, undersecretary of Defense and chief financial officer. Hale spoke at a Government Executive event in Arlington, Va.

A hiring freeze and furloughs "probably can't be avoided" in a sequester scenario, Hale said. He said the department “probably won’t look at reductions-in-force” to achieve savings as part of sequestration because they cost too much money. He also said he couldn’t give any specific numbers on possible furloughs.

"There's a long process with furloughs," Hale said. "It will adversely affect our missions, mot to mention the people involved."

Benefits could be affected as well, Hale said. For example, under a sequester, the Pentagon wouldn't have enough money to pay all of its bills under TRICARE, Defense's health care system. And Defense would have to cut back on family housing maintenance. 

"We need to stop this because it's not good policy and we need to avoid it," Hale said of the looming cutbacks.

He said the Defense Department had yet to do detailed planning for a potential sequester. "We don't have a specific timetable" for such planning, he added, "but I'm mindful that we're going to have to figure one out fairly soon." The department is consulting with the Office of Management and Budget on the planning process.

“I know this frustrates people, but we don’t have a detailed plan,” he said.

Hale said that in the absence of a sequester, Defense would, on the whole, be able to operate normally under a six-month continuing resolution that Congress approved on Saturday. But he said even that would present significant management and budgetary challenges. For example, the CR does not give the department the authority to start new weapons programs, or to increase production rates. "It's inefficient and unfortunate," Hale said of stop-and-start budgeting. "We need Congress to return to an orderly budget process."

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