Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel talks to troops at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel talks to troops at Fort Bragg, N.C. Defense Department

Top Defense Offices Could Face 20 Percent Staff Cut

Reality of sequestration is forcing secretary to consider severe action.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday announced a potential 20 percent cut to his office and the staffs of combatant commanders over several years.

Hagel said budget cuts from sequestration may require a “20 percent across-the-top cut in our offices,” to begin in 2015 and be completed by 2019. The Defense secretary made the announcement at Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla., as part of a three-day tour of military bases nationwide to address concerns about budget cuts resulting from sequestration.

"This is not a good way to do it," Hagel said. "You don't save any money at the front end when you [lay off] people. In fact, it costs you more money. It's just a dumb way to do things. Sequestration is an irresponsible deferral of policymaking. But we are where we are."

The cuts would take place across civilian and military offices; Hagel agreed to the reductions with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Hagel said he has not seen “hopeful signs” that Congress will reach agreement on an alternative to sequestration, which is scheduled to last 10 years. He warned that in the future, retirement benefits and health care could take a hit in order to reach reduced budget levels.

“Everyone’s got to do their part,” Hagel said.

 Last week, Hagel said civilian layoffs would likely begin in fiscal 2014.

“DoD is hoping to avoid furloughs of civilian personnel in fiscal year 2014,” Hagel wrote in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, “but the department might have to consider mandatory reductions in force.”

At a stop at Fort Bragg in North Carolina Monday, Hagel said he cannot effectively do his job by considering the possibilities of restored funding.

“You can't lead based on hope and thinking and maybes,” he told the Army personnel. “You have a responsibility of leading just as each of you do with the reality of what's in front of you, and you do the best you can to prepare your institution.”

Regarding the present situation, Hagel added “furloughs were the last thing I wanted to do,” but kept open the possibility that “maybe we can do better than 11 days” of unpaid leave in fiscal 2013. 

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