WASHINGTON, D.C. — Though budget woes led the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force to suspend their tuition assistance programs and the Navy continues to consider its options, the program is important to the Defense Department and to service members, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.
“The program enables the professional and personal development of our service members and facilitates their transition to the civilian workforce,” Little said at a Pentagon news conference.
The press secretary placed the blame on a “sequestration” mechanism in budget law that kicked in March 1, triggering across-the-board spending cuts that Pentagon officials repeatedly had warned would harm the nation’s military readiness.
“Let me be clear: we’re here because of sequestration,” he said. “If sequestration were averted, we may be facing a different set of choices on these and other programs.”
Last week, Little said, the Defense Department’s comptroller issued guidance suggesting the services consider significant reductions in funding tuition assistance applicants, effective immediately, for the duration of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
“We’re in a period of terrible budget uncertainty,” Little said. “This department is making multiple decisions that aren’t exactly to our liking, but we are having to swallow bitter pills, not because we want to pop them, but because we’re forced to make some very tough decisions.”
Such decisions, Little explained, are the “unfortunate outcomes” of budgetary uncertainty and the need to ensure the availability of necessary resources to respond to crises around the world.
“We’re walking soberly into the sequester period,” Little said, before relating Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s direction on the matter.
“His very clear instructions have been for us to, in a very calm, cool and collected manner, deal with the hand we’ve been dealt and it’s an unfortunate hand,” Little said.
Little maintained that DOD officials have been transparent, both within the department and with the American people, about sequestration’s consequences.
“We’ve been very clear about impacts to readiness and the services are making decisions on a broad range of programs,” Little said. “It should come as no surprise to anyone that these kinds of decisions are coming down the pike.”