Defense Cuts Are Squeezing Programs

Fleet Week in New York was canceled this year due to the cuts. Fleet Week in New York was canceled this year due to the cuts. Defense Department file photo

Budget cuts at the Defense Department are affecting many programs for service members and civilians, as managers mull hundreds of billions of dollars of additional reductions in the coming years.

Furloughs resulting from sequestration budget cuts are forcing commissaries to close for 11 Mondays, beginning on July 8. Nancy Mitchell, a store director at a commissary at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, said her staffers were “doing everything [they] can to minimize the impact,” but that the cuts would force customers to cope with less service.

"Everybody is getting these cutbacks right now," Mitchell said. "We're all straining."

Many of the military’s popular public events are also facing large budget cuts because of sequestration. The Navy’s annual Fleet Week event in New York City was canceled in late April, and the local economy is bracing for the loss of $20 million worth of economic activity, according to The Virginian-Pilot. Similar events have been canceled across the country to help conserve increasingly scarce Navy budget resources.

In March, a memo from Defense Comptroller Robert Hale told senior Defense officials that air shows, including the Navy’s Blue Angels program, would be canceled because of sequestration. As a result, the Angels won’t be performing this year at celebrations for the graduates at the Naval Academy, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Still, Defense is struggling to cope with simultaneous budget cuts, rising costs and a rapidly changing global environment. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said on Monday that Defense had submitted its $79.4 billion fiscal 2014 Overseas Contingency Operations budget proposal to Congress, down from the $86.5 billion requested in fiscal 2013. It comes alongside a $9.6 billion reprogramming request the Pentagon filed with Congress to help manage rising fuel and transportation costs in Afghanistan in the current fiscal year. Little said the reprogramming request was unrelated to sequestration, but that Defense was still “trying to scrape for every penny, dime and nickel so we can achieve an additional $37 billion in cuts by the end of September.”

Even then, hundreds of billions of dollars of future cuts may be on the horizon. Defense News reported that Pentagon officials will be presenting three budget cutting options -- ranging from $100 billion to $500 billion -- to members of Congress as a part of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s Strategic Choices and Management Review.  The final report is due to be completed by the end of May. Hale recently said that continued sequestration in fiscal 2014 may force job cuts at Defense to help manage costs. 

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