Sequestration Already Having a Major Impact, Panetta and Dempsey Say

Chad J. McNeeley/Defense Department

Budget uncertainty is already having an impact on military operations, and possible cuts will have real national security consequences, the Pentagon’s top civilian and military leaders said Thursday.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said across-the-board cuts from sequestration will affect the military’s readiness and urged congressional leaders to come to a consensus on the budget. Sequestration is due to take effect on March 1 if lawmakers fail to agree on an alternative, and the Pentagon has previously sounded alarms about the grim prospect of the cuts.

“This is not something that should be done as a way to blame the other party for what happens,” Panetta said in a meeting with reporters. “This is going to hurt the United States and hurt our defense.”

On Wednesday, the military announced it would not deploy several vessels, citing budget uncertainty from sequestration as the primary reason. Dempsey said the military is stretching out its readiness “so if something happens elsewhere in the world, we can respond to it.” Panetta also said that the moves being made at the Pentagon were reversible if the Defense Department “gets a full appropriation.”

The Air Force recently released guidance explaining how the branch was looking to implement sequestration. The plan includes an immediate hiring freeze, reducing “non-mission critical temporary and term employees,” curtailing flying hours and cutting long-term investments. Additionally, Army leaders believe that furloughing employees may not give them enough leeway to make their payroll. Other defense agencies have recently released documentation explaining how they plan to undertake rapid budget cuts.

Dempsey emphasized that the “military [needed] budget certainty,” and additional time to spread possible cuts.

“Given 10 years to spread reductions, we can manage it,” Dempsey said.

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