Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta expressed his gratitude to U.S. lawmakers for delaying sequestration and voiced optimism for finding a permanent way to avoid an additional $500 billion in budget cuts.
“On behalf of the Department of Defense, I want to express our thanks to the Democratic and Republican members of Congress who voted to temporarily avert sequestration,” Panetta said in a statement issued Jan. 2. “Hopefully, this will allow additional time to develop a balanced deficit reduction plan that would permanently prevent these arbitrary cuts.”
Congress passed legislation yesterday delaying the sequestration process by two months. Sequestration, included in the 2011 Budget Control Act, would have automatically cut $500 billion from defense spending over 10 years on top of $487 billion in spending reductions already identified over the same timeframe.
Had Congress not acted, the Defense Department, along with other federal agencies, would have been forced to take dramatic steps which would have “severely impacted” civilian personnel and disrupted DOD’s mission, Panetta said.
“For more than a year, I have made clear that sequestration would have a devastating impact on the department,” he said. “Over the past few weeks, as we were forced to begin preparing to implement this law, my concerns about its damaging effects have only grown.
“As an example, had Congress failed to act, I would have been required to send out a notice to our 800,000 civilian employees that they could be subject to furlough,” Panetta added.
The defense secretary credited Congress with preventing the “worst possible outcome” by delaying sequestration for two months, but noted the threat of sequestration continues.
“Unfortunately, the cloud of sequestration remains,” Panetta said. “The responsibility now is to eliminate it as a threat by enacting balanced deficit reduction. Congress cannot continue to just kick the can down the road.”
The Defense Department is “doing its part” to help the country address these budget concerns by working to implement $487 billion in spending reductions in accordance with its new defense strategy, Panetta said.
“The specter of sequestration has cast a shadow over our efforts,” he said. “We need to have stability in our future budgets. We need to have the resources to effectively execute our strategy, defend the nation, and meet our commitments to troops and their families after more than a decade of war.”
The defense secretary lauded the DOD workforce for its service and sacrifice. He said federal government leaders and members of Congress have a “responsibility” to provide the necessary support for them to accomplish their missions.
“Every day, the men and women of this department put their lives on the line to protect us all here at home. Those of us in Washington have no greater responsibility than to give them what they need to succeed and to come home safely,” Panetta said.
“My hope is that in the next two months, all of us in the leadership of the nation and the Congress can work together to provide that stability and to prevent sequestration once and for all,” he said. “Our national security demands no less.”