Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey Carolyn Kaster/AP

Pentagon leaders continue push against sequestration

National security readiness 'is at a tipping point,' Joint Chiefs warn.

With the revised deadline for preventing automatic spending cuts only six weeks away, the Defense Department continues its pleas to Congress to come up with a new budget deal because national security readiness “is at a tipping point.”

On Tuesday, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said reluctant preparations for sequestration are a drag on the department. “We’re investing a great number of manhours, resources and intensive planning for sequestration, which we, of course, hope to avoid,” he said.

“When you have [forward deployed] service members who are asking about appropriations, that’s a signal to me that [it’s] weighing on their minds,” Little said. When sequestration, continuing resolutions and appropriations become discussion points in Kabul, Vicenza or on Okinawa, that is a sign the debate in Washington is having a negative effect on troop morale, he continued. He said that his own level of awareness has increased with service members’ worries about their families, benefits and ability to complete their mission.

The seven members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently sent a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and other congressional defense and appropriations leaders. “We are on the brink of creating a hollow force due to an unprecedented convergence of budget conditions and legislation,” they wrote. “Troops on the front lines will receive the support they need, but the rest of the force will be compromised.” That could include grounding aircraft, returning ships to port and stopping the driving of combat vehicles for training.

“We are now planning for the potential to furlough up to nearly 800,000 defense civilians who are essential to critical functions like maintenance, intelligence, logistics, contracting and health care,” they said.”

If sequestration is “de-triggered,” they wrote, the existence of the continuing resolution set to expire March 27 means the Pentagon “will require transfer authority and support for follow-on reprogramming authority from investment accounts to readiness to help meet readiness concerns.”

A Levin spokeswoman told Government Executive Wednesday the senator does not plan to reply to the Joint Chiefs’ letter, citing the senator’s Jan. 2 statement after passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act delaying sequestration. “As we seek in the coming months a more comprehensive approach to avoid sequestration, one that will require both prudent spending cuts and additional revenues, it is imperative that we focus on the hundreds of billions of dollars lost to tax avoidance schemes,” Levin said. “Closing offshore tax loopholes and ending corporate tax avoidance gimmicks will help us avoid the harmful automatic cuts to important domestic and national security priorities and make the tax system fairer.”

The Joint Chiefs’ letter was welcomed by Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who said he hoped it “serves as a wake-up call. The condition of our Armed Forces is swiftly declining. And this is the first red flag on what could be a hazardous road for our national security.

"I only wish the service chiefs' warning had come sooner,” he continued. “For well over a year we have seen this perfect storm brewing. This committee rigorously documented the harmful impact of a reduced defense budget as early as September 2011. Time after time, this committee was told by Pentagon officials that there was no need to plan for sequestration's dire consequences. Time after time, we gave those officials the opportunity to testify about the risks inherent in that strategy. Now, as we approach the midnight hour, DoD is just beginning to offer specifics.”