Sequestration is not actually a four letter word, but it does have four syllables. It’s a word that everyone, both inside and outside of the Federal government, has heard and has come to dread. So, what is sequestration and how is it intended to work in the Department of Defense?
Simply defined, sequestration is automatic spending cuts of $85 Billion spread across the Federal government. The DOD portion will be $42 Billion, just under half of the entire amount.
Sequestration is the result of the failure by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to come to an agreement on where and how to reduce federal spending by $1.2 Trillion.
The initial trigger for sequestration was set for January 2, 2013. At the last moment, Congress extended the start date to March 1st. DOD’s $42 Billion represents approximately 9% of the Defense 2013 spending allowance.
The sequestration cuts are actually a second hit to DOD. Without an authorization act, DOD has been operating under a Continuing Resolution Authority (CRA).
This means that the 2013 outlays cannot exceed the amount of funds spent in fiscal year 2012. A CRA also does not permit any new starts.
If sequestration had started on January 1st, there would have been nine months of fiscal year 2013 left to absorb the automatic cuts. The $42 Billion must now be achieved more dramatically in a seven month period.
Which means the cuts to civilian pay accounts will be condensed into a five month period due to requirements that mandate prior written notifications be given to all effected personnel. This will delay the civilian cuts until the end of April.
Delaying pay cuts may sound good at first, but with less time to spread out the cuts the furlough will effect civilian pay one day every week instead of one day every other week.
The salary cuts for civilians are programmed for 22 furloughed days of non paid leave for the entire Defense civil service workforce. The DOD is currently under a hiring freeze for new and vacant positions.
In addition to personnel costs, cuts will be seen in all programs across-the-board except for the military pay accounts. Under the rules of the National Defense Act, military personnel cannot be furloughed.
Contracts and contractors are an area where savings may not be as large as desired. Many multi-million dollar contracts were already obligated at the beginning of the fiscal year, especially in the case of multi-year contracts.
However, the DOD intends to renegotiate some contracts based on the realization that there will be less work to be performed because of have less purchasing ability for parts and supplies and reduced civilian manpower.
Currently, the DOD is not approving new contracts and is carefully reviewing contracts up for renewal during the remainder of the fiscal year for their critical need to high priority arenas.
The equipment and training necessary for mission readiness are slated for cuts. That means that in areas such as transportation, aviation and logistics, there will be less supplies and parts available.
Deployed service members may see their overseas assignments extended until their replacement troops can be equipped, trained, and qualified for deployment.
There are some areas that can be greatly reduced or eliminated, such as new Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) projects. RDT&E work is most beneficial in the future years and could be pushed farther out into the future if absolutely necessary to achieve current reductions in spending.
However, the RDT&E area has two issues connected with it:
Sequestration calls for cuts only. Reprogramming authority would be needed to move funds to support critical mission like:
A reprogramming request can take several months for a Congressional decision and the request may be declined.
Some critical functions may not actually receive a full share of the cuts. Those would be in the Information Technology and Telecommunications arenas. Today’s electronic age requires that these functions remain up and operational at all times.
In fact, this is an area that may see more use in activities such as teleconferences as the travel costs will be drastically reduced.
The over reaching concern in the DOD is that the sequestration’s arbitrary salami slices to military programs will result in a hollowed out force barely maintaining mission capabilities and unable to respond to contingencies.
Hope remains alive that a budgetary compromise can be achieved by members Congress in the very near future. When that happens, sequestration will end and mission goals can proceed forward without many serious consequences.
The longer sequestration remains in effect, the more risk there is to the loss of mission goals and readiness.