Military leaders issue guidance on preparing for worst-case fiscal scenarios

The across-the-board budget cuts that would occur if Congress does not find a way to avoid sequestration by March 1 would be detrimental to the readiness of U.S. armed forces and threaten their ability to respond to new crises around the globe, senior military leaders told Congress this month.

“The readiness of our Armed Forces is at a tipping point," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff GEN Martin Dempsey, said in a Jan. 14 letter to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The letter also was signed by the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and National Guard.

The Defense Department faces a $52 billion shortfall this fiscal year if sequestration mandated by the Budget Control Act is not averted. Each of the services has reluctantly taken initial steps to prepare for sequestration by issuing guidance to commanders that set forth cost-cutting measures.

The severe budget cuts that would occur should sequestration not be avoided would “trigger a cut in operating budgets of more than 20 percent across the Joint Force compared with the President’s budget,” Dempsey said.

Since the priority of the military remains its current combat operations and care for wounded warfighters, the burden of the cuts would fall on a smaller portion of the U.S. force, resulting in a reduction in force readiness, the letter stated.

“Troops on the front lines will receive the support they need,” Dempsey said, “But the rest of the force will be compromised.

Dempsey and the service chiefs request in the letter that lawmakers take action to provide stable funding for readiness.

Even if sequestration is avoided, but the continuing resolution remains in effect, the military chiefs want transfer authority and support for follow-on reprogramming authority from investment accounts to readiness to help address readiness concerns.

In a Jan. 16 memorandum to commanders, senior Army officials warned of the severity of the fiscal situation and outlined near-term actions for the commanders to take.

“The fiscal situation and outlook are serious,” Army Chief of Staff GEN Ray Odierno and Secretary of the Army John McHugh, said in the memo. The possibility of a yearlong continuing resolution and sequestration, coupled with the need to protect wartime operations, “may result in particularly severe reductions to operation and maintenance spending,” they said.

Amy commanders were directed in the memo to implement an Army-wide civilian hiring freeze, terminate temporary employees, reduce base operations funding, limit temporary duties and professional training that are not mission critical, and curtail conferences that are not mission critical.

Army commanders also are to review contracts for possible cost savings, limit administrative expenses, halt restoration and modernization projects, and cease facilities sustainment activities that are not directly related to matters of life, health and safety.

Because of the threat of sequestration, as well as the possibility of having to operate under a year-long continuing resolution, the Air Force also will enact near-term measures to cut costs in anticipation of such events, said Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer in a Jan. 14 memo.

Citing budgetary uncertainty and a project fiscal 2013 shortfall of $1.3 billion in Air Force funding for overseas contingency operations, the Air Force memo instructs commanders to carry out a civilian hiring freeze, review overseas contingency operations contracts to find areas for potential reductions that would not impair wartime operations, curtail flying not directly related to readiness (i.e. airshows and flyovers), delay modernization projects, and other measures.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, in a Jan. 13 memo to naval commanders, directed them to freeze civilian hiring, terminate temporary employees, reduce IT and administrative budgets, delay decommissionings, curtail administrative contracting support services, and cut back on travel and conferences.

“These steps will not solve the problem completely,” Mabus wrote. “We will only be able to sustain current fleet operations. We will not be able to sufficiently maintain and reset our forces for future operations.”

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