WASHINGTON — If sequestration continues next year, the Pentagon says it might have to freeze all promotions, stop accepting new recruits, suspend permanent change-of-station moves and eliminate discretionary bonuses.
Those were some of the measures outlined in a letter from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which had asked Hagel for an outline of how the department would respond an automatic cut of $52 billion to the proposed 2014 DOD budget.
President Barack Obama in April proposed a $526.6 billion base DOD budget, but spending caps mandated by federal law could cut it by about 10 percent.
The department is struggling this year to handle a $37 billion sequestration cut, mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. If a deadlocked Congress does not find a way to cut the federal deficit as the law requires, sequestration could reduce planned DOD spending by a some $500 billion over a decade.
“The abrupt, deep cuts caused by the BCA caps in FY 2014 will force DOD to make nonstrategic changes,” Hagel wrote to legislators. “If the cuts continue, the Department will have to make sharp cuts with far reaching consequences, including limiting combat power, reducing readiness and undermining the national security interests of the United States.”
Among the effects, a contingency plan attached to Hagel’s letter said sequestration would reduce the readiness of special operations units, an increasingly vital part of U.S. global military operations, and prevent two Navy air wings from getting in all scheduled flight hours.
The Army, which drastically cut training for most troops this year, would face similar cuts next year, while the Air Force would have to significantly reduce training in more than half its active flying units, the plan said.
Taken together, the cuts would “reduce deployable U.S. combat power,” the document said. “In the event of a major military contingency, they might leave the country without ready forces needed to fight effectively.”
War funding, however, would not be affected by sequestration in 2014, the Pentagon document said.
Cuts in operations and maintenance accounts would likewise effect DOD civilians, who are enduring furloughs to save money this year. But continued sequestration could bring worse effects in 2014, the contingency plan said.
“DOD is hoping to avoid furloughs of civilian personnel in FY 2014, but the Department might have to consider mandatory reductions-in-force (RIFs),” the plan said.
Sequestration would require further reductions in facilities maintenance, base operating funding and support for community events, according to the plan.
Continued sequestration would also force reductions of up to 20 percent for procurement, research and development and military construction, the document said.
Reducing military end strength would not save significant money in the near term because of the cost of separation, the plan argued, and would require action by Congress. Congress should accept the cost-cutting recommendations in the president’s budget, Hagel said, by raising Tricare retiree fees and eliminating ships and weapons programs the DOD doesn’t want. Hagel also argued a new round of base closures would save money in coming years.
“If Congress does not approve these proposals, even more cuts in combat power, readiness and modernization would be needed to accommodate cuts of $52 billion in FY 2014 and similar cuts in later years,” Hagel wrote.