WASHINGTON — Childcare and Family support programs will be reduced under sequestration, the Army’s chief of staff told members of Congress.
“We don’t want to reduce these, but we have no choice,” Gen. Raymond Odierno told lawmakers, Tuesday, on Capitol Hill. The general and the other service chiefs testified before the House Appropriations Committee Defense subcommittee during an oversight hearing to examine fiscal challenges to the military.
If sequestration is triggered today, the Army will have a shortfall of $18 billion in its operation and maintenance accounts this year, Odierno said.
The sequestration will necessitate reduced hours at post childcare centers, he said. Spouse employment programs will be reduced, and even healthcare programs, in some cases, will be affected.
“On our installations, civilian furloughs, a 70 percent reduction in base sustainment funding and an elimination of contracts will strain our ability to protect our Army Family programs,” Odierno said. “If sequestration is implemented, we’ll be forced to reduce funding for our schools, our daycare centers, Family assistance and community service programs, Family and substance-abuse counselors and tuition assistance for our Soldiers.”
The general said the Army is prioritizing programs and trying to determine which ones are the most important for Families.
“We’re trying to sustain the most critical ones,” Odierno said. “But even if we sustain them, we’re going to have to reduce some of the capability within those programs.”
Soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and elsewhere expect their Families to be taken care of, the general said.
“We talk a lot about keeping faith with our Soldiers,” he said, adding that service members will do anything asked by the nation and deploy on short notice. “The one thing they want us to do is take care of their Families.”
Degraded access to medical care may also take place under sequestration, Odierno said. The number of mental healthcare providers will decrease instead of going up, he said. The Army has been attempting to increase providers over the past few years to help treat brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.
“Before sequestration, we allocated the dollars and positions to increase military and civilian mental health providers,” Odierno said. “The problem is there are not enough out there. Now what’s going to happen is we’re going to have to reduce the number we already have.”
Annual dental checkups and annual physicals for reserve-component Soldiers will be in jeopardy, said Gen. Frank J. Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau. Contracts that provide those services now will be lost under sequestration, he said.
Sequestration will set the National Guard back when it comes to dealing with “complex disasters” such as severe earthquakes, Grass told members of Congress. He said the Guard has been working with U.S. Northern Command and other agencies to improve its response capabilities to natural disasters, but that will suffer steps backward under sequestration.
The National Guard will face a backlog in military schooling for its Soldiers, Grass testified. It will face maintenance issues on equipment as its dual-status military technicians are furloughed. And readiness will suffer due to curtailed training.
Training under sequestration will be curtailed for about 80 percent of the Army’s ground force, Odierno told lawmakers. He said this will eventually have dire effects on readiness.
“We simply do not know when we will be asked to deploy Soldiers to fight again,” he said. “But history is very clear on this subject. We will ask them to deploy.”
If they are not trained and ready when that happens, Odierno said, lives will be lost. Likewise, if they don’t have the proper equipment, he said the cost will be American lives.
Sequestration will result in delays to every one of the Army’s 10 modernization programs, Odierno testified.
“I began my career in the 70s in a hollow Army,” Odierno said at the beginning of his testimony. “I am determined that I will not end my career in a hollow Army.”
The right mix between training, manpower and modernization must be found, he said. He emphasized that flexibility is necessary to achieve the right mix, and sequestration calls for a 10-percent cut in accounts across the board.
About 251,000 Army civilian employees will be furloughed one day per week without pay under sequestration, Odierno said. The furloughs would begin in mid-April and extend through September in order to achieve a 10-percent reduction in pay for the fiscal year.
About 48 percent of the Army budget is in people, he said. So the Army will need to reduce both military and civilian personnel under sequestration, he said.
The Army has already terminated an estimated 31,000 temporary and term employees, he said. And a hiring freeze has been implemented. Sequestration will mean additional cuts to employees, especially at maintenance depots, he said.