Spending cuts that took effect March 1 will diminish recruiting, training, and medical and support programs that sustain the all-volunteer force, a senior Pentagon official told Congress March 13.
Jessica L. Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, noted to the House Armed Services Committee that President Barack Obama exempted military personnel accounts from sequestration.
“Although I wholeheartedly agree with his decision,” she added, “the results are larger decrements on other defense accounts, and most notably, the [operating and management] accounts, to compensate for this.”
Sequestration calls for a $41 billion deduction in budgeting across the department through the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, with another potential $6 billion “for a total of 9 percent of the total budget to be implemented in the last seven months,” Wright said.
“While we’re going to protect our war fighters’ military pay,” she added, “we cannot do this without the cost of readiness for our force.”
Although their pay won’t be affected, Wright said, service members will feel the pinch in other ways.
“The backbone of this great military institution is our people – active, National Guard and Reserve service members, as well as the civilians who serve throughout the country and the world, are the department’s greatest assets,” she said. Due to operating and maintenance cuts, she added, reduced training will lead to diminishing readiness, and ultimately, lower morale.
“Even as we seek to protect our family programs, where feasible, service members and family support programs will be impacted across the board because of funding decrements,” Wright said. “And that will affect the quality of life.”
The Defense Department’s career civilian workforce has not seen a pay raise in several years, and is likely to be subject to 22 days of unpaid furlough beginning from late April through September, Wright said, noting this equates to a 20-percent pay reduction over that period. This also affects their families and the economies of the communities where they live, she added.
“We’re currently reviewing the priority of family programs and how to minimize the impact and the effects of sequestration to our service members and families,” Wright said. “Although the purpose of sequestration is to evenly cut all programs, we’ll seek to preserve these services as much as practical. We have to make hard trade-off decisions to lessen these impacts and determine how to absorb these impacts.”
The undersecretary said DOD officials recognize the nation’s fiscal situation, but need the Pentagon’s contribution to be sensible.
“We understand the Department of Defense must do its part in addressing the nation’s budget cuts, [but we] must do it in a responsible and judicious manner,” she said.