Contradicting skeptics who accuse the Pentagon of being alarmist about sequestration, newly installed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday said the uncertainties surrounding the impending across-the-board budget cuts “will continue to cause this department to put at risk our ability to be effective and fulfill all of our missions.”
At a joint press conference, Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter laid out a rough schedule beginning at midnight Friday and stretching out over the coming weeks, in which all Pentagon components except those on active duty in Afghanistan will launch a series of cutbacks. The Navy will gradually stand down at least four wings, beginning in April; the Air Force will immediately stop flight training; and the Army will curtail training in 80 percent of its units, the segment that is not in the war zone.
“The impact will be abundantly obvious, starting tomorrow and building this year,” Carter said, “It is not subtle. We’ve been sounding the alarm for 16 months.”
Hagel called sequestration’s cuts “abrupt and arbitrary,” but said he and the Joint Chiefs of Staff could adjust to the realities. “America has the best fighting force in the world, but these budget cuts are making our job harder,” Hagel said. “I have confidence in the president and Congress to make decisions and that a consensus will be reached at some point to avert serious damage to this institution.”
He called for “a balanced deficit reduction plan that leads to ending the sequester and passage of appropriations bills for all agencies.”
Both leaders warned of more damaging effects if no adjustments are made in the continuing resolution that expires on March 27, saying furlough notifications will go out and managers will begin to review and delay contracts.
Carter said sequestration will have an impact on active-duty troops because gaps in their training can degrade their readiness and force them to make up the training later to stay certified. Sequestration and the funding categories in the continuing resolution are concentrated in areas separate from those involved in Afghanistan, which leaves troops less ready for other conflicts, Carter said. Delays in maintenance throw off the advance planning of shipyards, he added.
Sequestration will affect civilian workers—86 percent of whom work outside Washington and 44 percent of whom are veterans—in the form of furloughs, Carter said. And it will affect the contractor workforce, which accounts for all but about $4 billion of the $46 billion that must be cut over the next seven months.