Planning for sequestration is the practical thing to do and doesnít indicate a lack of confidence in Congress, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said Jan. 27 in an interview on ìThis Week in Defense News with Vago Muradian.
Though Congress voted earlier this month to delay until March 2 the implementation of about $500 billion in across-the-board defense spending cuts over 10 years, Carter explained, the threat still looms and the Pentagon must be ready.
Complicating matters, is that the Defense Department – as is all of the federal government – is still operating under a continuing resolution, ìwhich means we are stuck with the budget of last year, category by category,î he added. The continuing resolution is set to expire March 27, unless Congress approves a new appropriations act for fiscal 2013.
Preparing for this confluence of events requires a delicate balance between acting too early and planning too late, Carter said.
The reason not to make adjustments too early is these are not desirable things to do,î he said. ìThey’re not good for defense, so you don’t want to do them until you have to.
For example, Carter said, the Defense Department normally hires about 1,000 people each week to maintain a stable number of personnel. However, he continued, ìif I worry that I’m going to run short of money later in the fiscal year, Iíd better stop hiring.
On Jan. 10, Carter issued a memo authorizing defense components to implement measures that will mitigate the effects of fiscal uncertainty, including hiring freezes, termination of temporary employees and cancelling certain equipment maintenance contracts.
Now that’s not a good thing,î Carter said. ìThat’s jobs – 44 percent of the people we hire are veterans. And we care about hiring veterans. And of course, most importantly, we care about getting the work done.
When he talks about DOD civilians, Carter said, he’s not talking about bureaucrats in Washington. ìThese are shipyard workers – these are people who are doing important things, he added.
The memo requires defense components to submit their plans to Carterís office, he said, to ensure their efforts are balanced and to provide components with an opportunity to learn from each otherís approaches. Meanwhile, he said, the department is taking prudent steps now in case the continuing resolution is extended for the whole year or the sequestration cuts take effect.
ìWhat we’re trying to do is take steps that are reversible,î he explained. ìThey’re harmful if they last the whole year. But if I take them now, I’ll be better off later in the year.
For now, he said, these are steps that can be quickly undone.
ìLater in the year, I’m going to have to do things that are irreversible – that do irreversible harm,î Carter said, including furloughing federal employees and reducing military training.
Obviously, I don’t want to do that. If it goes on long enough, we will do damage to readiness that will be difficult and take years to reverse,î he said.
Preparations have been ongoing for some time, Carter said.
We’ve been doing that quietly,î he said, ìbecause we haven’t wanted to act as though sequestration or any of these things was either inevitable or, certainly, something that we could manage with ease. These are damaging, destructive things to do.