Military leaders struggled to deal with sequestration, shutdown


By STEVEN BEARDSLEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 29, 2013

Among the conflicts that consumed Pentagon planners in 2013 were the budget wars in Washington, which raged throughout the year and claimed more than a few casualties across the military community.

The defense budget caps known as “sequestration” went into effect in March, forcing military officials to carve $34 billion out of planning for the rest of the fiscal year. Commanders decried the impact of the cuts on unit readiness, with the Army canceling brigade-level training exercises and the Air Force slashing flying hours and grounding whole squadrons.

The Navy cited sequestration when it delayed the deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier in February, throwing military families as well as the many single sailors who had already moved out of apartments and stored vehicles, into a tailspin. Nearly 650,000 civilian defense employees were furloughed for six days in the summer, a change from initial plans that had called for 22 days of furloughs but were changed to 14 days and then 11.

Educators at Department of Defense schools received a last-minute furlough reprieve before the school year began in August, reversing the department’s widely criticized plan to close nearly 200 schools across the world for five furlough days.

Sequestration was only one of several budget conundrums facing the DOD in 2013.

The government also ran on a continuing resolution until late March, which froze spending at levels from the previous fiscal year and forced many commands to tighten spending further.

In light of sequestration and the continuing resolution, communities canceled festivities such as Fourth of July fireworks, and on-base services altered hours. DOD commands and entities put stricter travel rules into place, leading to canceled meetings and more video teleconferences.

In Europe, The Edelweiss Lodge and Resort, a popular vacation spot and conference center for servicemembers and their families in the German Alps, reported a 15 percent drop in occupancy during the second quarter of 2013.

With the new fiscal year came a new crisis.

Congress failed to fund the government by Oct. 1, forcing the government to shut down, including many of its military components. Ordered to continue only mission-essential activities, commanders were forced to weigh which employees they needed and which could be sent home. Servicemembers, meanwhile, continued to work.

Congress ended the shutdown on Oct. 17, and it agreed to repay those who lost money during more than two weeks of furloughs. Still, the deal to fund the government avoided the biggest issue on military commanders’ minds — sequestration, and the prospect of another round of more than $50 billion in lowered spending in January.

Under a new, two-year budget deal announced in December, much of the funding lost under the budget caps for the next two fiscal years set in the 2011 Budget Control Act will be restored.

Whether the deal can keep military commands from further cutting — and civilians and servicemember families happy — remains to be seen.

Twitter: @sjbeardsley