By Mike Mount
It is said that the "P" in Pentagon stands for planning. Military personnel and civilians alike plan for everything inside that building - wars, peace, exercises, humanitarian operations, even how to get the almost 25,000 employees out of the building for a fire drill.
So why is it, from the secretary of defense on down, there is nobody planning for a massive half-a-trillion dollars in potential cuts coming in about six months?
Well, according to the secretary other senior DoD leaders, publicly they are not planning because they have not been given direction to do so.
First of all, let's start with what this is all about.
The potential cuts are the result of a congressional deal struck while negotiating over the current budget deal. Those negotiations resulted in the inability of Congress and the president to agree on a deficit-reduction plan. If there is no agreement, come the beginning of January 2013, the Pentagon will be forced to cut over $500 billion from its accounts over the next 10 years.
It's called sequestration, and the cuts would be on top of the already-budgeted, and planned-for, $500 billion in spending cuts for DoD, also over the next 10 years.
For months now, even as recently as last week, top Pentagon leaders and Pentagon spokesmen have said the Department of Defense is not planning for sequestration. They have said it to Congress, they have said it in press releases and they have told reporters, over and over again.
The reason for not planning, the Department of Defense says, is that to plan for such cuts the Pentagon has to be directed by the White House's Office of Management and Budget - the same department that also files the President's annual budget with Congress.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff have said the effect of the cuts would be devastating to the military and could "hollow out the force," as well as having to dump the new Pentagon strategy to focus on Asia.
But not planning for it would create a bigger mess, says former DoD comptroller Tina Jonas, who served under the Bush administration.
"From a political standpoint, I understand they are playing a game of chicken, but fundamentally they have to meet their basic responsibilities to plan," Jonas told CNN.com's Security Clearance.
Senior defense officials said that one reason they have been told not to plan is to ensure Congress has no incentives to move ahead with cuts.
But if you do have a list of items to cut, "you are showing that cuts are possible," and Congress would be more likely to go forward with them, according to Pentagon officials who were not authorized to discuss the details of sequestration on the record.
The idea of sequestration is to have a result so distasteful to Congress that it would force the members on both sides to come to a compromise on an overall budget deal.
But some think sequestration is inevitable and say the DoD is already planning for the massive cuts, despite what is being said publicly.
"This is all noise," says Winslow Wheeler, a long-time Pentagon watchdog, referencing the statements being made by Panetta and his lieutenants.
"They understand that nothing is going to happen in Congress, absent divine intervention. Of course there is a lot of activity going on to prepare for this and you are not going to hear about any of it until after the elections," he said.
Wheeler says this word game is happening because Democrats do not want the defense cuts to be an election issue this November.
"Politically, it's too hot," Wheeler said. "The Republicans want to trash the Democrats for allowing cuts to defense and the Democrats want to run away from that," he said.
Wheeler said he has spoken to people inside the Pentagon who are indeed planning, and there have even been news reports of secret, unofficial meetings among senior Pentagon staff to discuss where cuts will have to happen.
Pentagon officials who spoke to Security Clearance said they were unaware of any internal, ad hoc planning and insisted what Panetta said was true, there will be no planning until the OMB says so.
In response to the question of why the Office of Management and Budget told the Department of Defense not to plan, Kenneth Baer, OMB communications director, told Security Clearance, "We have made it clear that we believe that sequester is, by design, bad policy."
"Should it get to the point where it appears that Congress will not do its job and the sequester may take effect, OMB will work with agencies regarding planning," Baer said.
Secretary Panetta is no stranger to political wrangling in Washington.
He is a former Democratic member of the House of Representatives from California and sat on the House Budget Committee. Last month he told reporters, "Each side can stake out its political position, I understand that. But the fact is that nothing will happen without compromise from both sides."
But whether planning is occurring or not, former DoD controller Jonas says if sequestration happens it is impossible to tell what effect it will have on the military in the long run.
"That is probably the most devastating thing, because it's essentially a meat ax to every account and the implications are completely unknown," she said.
"It would be totally unmanageable and would take a decade and a half to deal with the implications of that," Jonas said.