ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Top Pentagon leadership ordered military commanders Thursday to submit plans for cutting staff and maintenance in case Congress fails to pass a new budget. The cutbacks could impact tens of thousands of employees at Fort George G. Meade and the Naval Academy.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter's memo to the heads of all military departments, asking for plans by Feb. 1, is the first time commanders have been asked to prepare plans for the the possibility of sequestration. The automatic budget cuts, which could of slashed defense spending by nearly $500 billion over 10 years on Jan. 2, were temporarily avoided by last minute tax deals and pushed back to March 1.
Carter ordered department heads to make plans to reduce civilian workforce costs, if the big cuts come.
He said plans should include releasing temporary employees, freezing civilian hiring, authorizing voluntary separation incentives and voluntary early retirements to the extent feasible, and considering furloughs of up to 30 calendar days or 22 discontinuous workdays. Any actions must be reversible at a future date, he added.
Fort Meade and Naval Academy officials deferred comment to the Pentagon.
Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, defense press officer at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, said how the cuts could affect the people and families working at the county's military base and at Annapolis' service academy remains to be seen.
“We're conducting detailed planning but it's too soon to tell the specific effects to Fort Meade and the Naval Academy” Robbins said Friday.
Fort Meade is home to approximately 11,000 military personnel and 29,000 civilian employees who work for the National Security Agency, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the U.S. Cyber Command and other agencies. With more than 56,000 employees, the growing military base is Maryland's largest single employer.
Last year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the military would not prepare for sequestration. He changed his tone Thursday, telling reporters at a news briefing that it's better to be prepared.
Panetta said a “19 to 20 percent reduction in the base budget operating dollars for active units, including a cut of what looks like almost 30 percent for the Army,” is what could occur.
“We really have no choice but to prepare for the worst,” Panetta said. “Regardless of what Congress does or fails to do, we still have an obligation to protect this country.”
The Defense Department is currently operating on a continuing resolution from Congress through at least March 27, limiting spending to fiscal 2012 levels, according to Carter's memo. Carter said in the memo that if that resolution were to be extended through the end of the fiscal year, it would “hinder our ability to maintain a ready force.”