Panetta says fiscal crisis poses biggest immediate threat to DOD

| January 18, 2013 | 0 Comments
Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, left, addresses reporters as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, listens during a press briefing Jan. 10, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. Panetta and Dempsey discussed how the Department of Defense would be affected by sequestration.

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, left, addresses reporters as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, listens during a press briefing Jan. 10, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. Panetta and Dempsey discussed how the Department of Defense would be affected by sequestration. (Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

The “perfect storm of budget uncertainty” howling around his department is the biggest immediate threat facing the U.S. military, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told reporters, here, Jan. 10.

Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed during a regular Pentagon press conference that unless Congress acts, the nation’s military readiness will be compromised.

The U.S. has a number of adversaries around the world, Panetta said, “but the most immediate threat to our ability to achieve our mission is fiscal uncertainty: not knowing what our budget will be, not knowing if our budget will be drastically cut and not knowing whether the strategy that we put in place can survive.”

Panetta emphasized that DOD “is doing its part” by implementing, during the next decade, the $487 billion spending reduction set by Congress.

“We designed a strategy, we know what the elements of that strategy are, we built a budget based on that and we achieved our savings by virtue of that strategy,” he said.

But the additional half-trillion-dollar “meat-axe cuts” sequester would trigger still loom “less than 50 days away,” the secretary noted.

Panetta noted defense strategy places the highest priority on operations and maintenance funding as the key to a ready force.

The secretary said practical results of these cuts would be less training for units not imminently deploying to Afghanistan.

Civilian employees would also take a hit, he said. Unpaid layoffs, which the government calls furloughs, would put civilian employees temporarily out of work. This “would further harm our readiness and create hardship on them and their families,” Panetta noted.

A plan is in place to implement such layoffs if sequester happens, the secretary said.

“This action is strictly precautionary,” he said. “I want to make that clear; It’s precautionary. But I have an obligation to … let Congress know that we may have to do that, and I very much hope that we will not have to furlough anyone. But we’ve got to be prepared to do that if we face this situation.”

But, he added, “We really have no choice but to prepare for the worst.”

First steps to containing budget risk will include cutting back on facility maintenance, freezing civilian hiring and delaying some contract awards, the secretary said.

Panetta has also directed the services to develop detailed plans for how they will implement sequester-triggered cuts, if required, he said, “because there will be so little time to respond in the current fiscal year.”

The secretary said the intensive planning effort now underway will ensure the military is prepared to accomplish its core missions.

“I want to emphasize, however, that … no amount of planning that we do can fully offset the harm that would result from sequestration, if that happens,” he added.

Dempsey offered his view of what wreckage the fiscal “storm” would leave behind.

“As I’ve said before, sequestration is a self-inflicted wound on national security,” the chairman said. “It’s an irresponsible way to manage our nation’s defense. It cuts blindly, and it cuts bluntly. It compounds risk, and it … compromises readiness. In fact, readiness is what’s now in jeopardy. We’re on the brink of creating a hollow force, the very thing we said we must avoid.”

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