While the Defense Department can foresee the harmful effects of sequestration, the nature of the legislative mechanism makes it impossible to devise a plan that eliminates or substantially mitigates those effects, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said Aug. 1.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Carter explained the law’s effect on the defense budget and overall strategy.
Sequestration refers to a mechanism built into the Budget Control Act that would trigger an additional $500 billion across-the-board cut in defense spending over the next decade if Congress doesn’t identify alternative spending cuts by January.
“We’re working with [the Office of Management and Budget] to understand this complex legislation, and we are, as I described, assessing impacts,” Carter said. “But we’re still five months from January. I’m hoping, to quote [Defense] Secretary [Leon E.] Panetta, that Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – will exercise the necessary leadership to make sure that sequestration is de-triggered. In the unfortunate event that sequestration is actually triggered, we will work with OMB, and like all the federal agencies affected by this law, we will be ready to implement it.”
Carter also discussed the unintentional effects of the mechanism if it isn’t “de-triggered” in a reasonable amount of time.
“While we’ll not fail to prepare for sequestration, we’re equally worried about a different type of error,” he said. “This would occur if sequestration does not happen, but we end up triggering some of its bad effects anyway.
“For example, we do not want to unnecessarily alarm employees by announcing adverse personnel actions or by suggesting that such actions are likely,” he continued. “For efficiency reasons, we do not want to hold back on the obligation of funds, either for weapons projects or operating programs, that would have been obligated in the absence of a possible sequestration.”
The deputy defense secretary also noted the department doesn’t want to cut back on training, which would harm military readiness as the nation faces a complex array of national security challenges. Also, Carter said, private companies that serve DOD and constitute “important members of our national security team” also need to make decisions on issues related to sequestration.
Carter said a number of these private companies have expressed alarm at “such a wasteful and disruptive way” of managing taxpayers’ money and their employees’ talent.
“We will continue to consult closely with them, along with the OMB, and other government departments,” Carter said. “The best thing that can happen to our industry partners, as well as the department, is for the Congress to enact a balanced deficit reduction plan that halts implementation of this inflexible law.”
After outlining his thoughts on sequestration’s potentially “devastating” impacts, Carter re-emphasized the Defense Department’s position.
“Secretary Panetta and I strongly believe that we need to deal with the debt and deficit problems in a balanced way and avoid sequestration,” he said. “This will require legislation that both houses of Congress can approve and that the president can sign.”
Carter said Americans, the nation’s allies, and even its enemies, need to know the U.S. government has the political will to implement the defense strategy that has been put forth.
“The men and women of our department, and their families, need to know with certainty that we’ll meet our commitments to them,” he said. “Our partners in defense industry, and their employees, need to know that we’re going to have the resources to procure the world-class capabilities they can provide, and that we can do so efficiently.”