Sequestration is a series of automatic federal spending cuts that was scheduled to begin on January 2, 2013 when Congress could not reach an agreement on how to budget $1.2 Trillion in deficit reductions for fiscal year 2013.
The onset of sequestration was delayed until March 1st in hopes of Congress reaching a deficit compromise. With only a few days remaining until March 1st, there is little hope of stopping the automatic $85 Billion in arbitrary cuts.
For the Department of Defense (DOD), sequestration means cutting back $42 Billion on programs across all military agencies.
The DOD does not have a 2013 authorization act and has been operating under a Continuing Resolution Authority (CRA) since the beginning of the fiscal year. This means they are functioning in 2013 without any increase in funds from 2012. The $42 Billion spending cuts dictated by the sequestration is on top of an already reduced allowance.
The DOD has many concerns on what the impacts of a sequestration will have on the military. The most pressing concerns are discussed below.
With reduced capability to maintain and repair military equipment already in service, there is the threat that many high priority and expensive mission essential aircraft, vessels and land vehicles will become nonoperational.
With cuts to training and travel accounts, only critical skills training will be provided. Deployed troops may have their overseas tours extended until the replacement troops are fully trained and equipped and will be ready for deployment.
Most people do not realize the amount of contracted non-defense companies which provide support to the DOD.
When funding for these essential services are cut back or eliminated, there could be extra costs to restart these functions later. Some of the work will require a complete revision when restarted, which may add billions of dollars in unintended costs. Recapturing lost services and equipment may take years to recoup.
Rather than take an automatic salami slice approach across defense programs, the DOD would prefer to prioritize where to take the cuts. The main goal of the DOD is to keep the force trained, equipped and ready to perform their mission objectives.
Some areas, like research and development of future enhancements, could be slowed down or even see the elimination of some projects altogether if there was permission to move funds. Funds could be moved to more critical areas while still meeting the overall mandated cuts.
To do this, the DOD will need reprogramming authority from Congress. A reprogramming request is a lengthy process that generally takes several months to complete. Even if the request is approved, it may come too late to effectively save some high priority programs.
The longer sequestration is in place, the higher the risk becomes for a hollowed out military force unable to achieve mission responsibility and unable to respond to contingencies.
At the current time, the sequestration is only intended to last through fiscal year 2013.
But, there is the risk that if no budgetary compromise is reached by Congress, there may be more years of sequestration to come until the entire Federal government cuts out $1.2 Trillion in spending. Conceivably, that could take upwards of 10 years to materialize.
For fiscal year 2013, the civilian workforce is scheduled to be furloughed for 22 days of non paid leave. But, if sequestration continues into future fiscal years with a DOD hiring freeze and people retiring or leaving federal service, maintaining daily operational capacity will become a greater risk.
The leaders within the DOD are working on all potential options to minimize risk and to maintain readiness at the highest levels possible given the constrained environment. The hope is for a speedy resolution by both houses of Congress so that these concerns never have to materialize.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III testifies with a panel of Defense Department witnesses on Capitol Hill, Feb. 12, 2013, during a hearing before the Senate. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)
During the hearing, Welsh said sequestration undermines the Air Force’s readiness and responsiveness, jeopardizing the strategic advantages airpower provides. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testifies about the impact on the Department of Defense should the U.S. enter into sequestration in Washington, D.C., Feb. 12, 2013. (Photo by Scott Ash)