By Larry Shaughnessy
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel quoted President Dwight Eisenhower Wednesday, telling rising military officers "the wise and prudent administration of the vast resources required by defense calls for extraordinary skill."
In his first major policy speech since taking over the Pentagon, Hagel focused on the budget problems facing the Defense Department and the rest of the government.
"A combination of fiscal pressures and a gridlocked political process has led to far more abrupt and deeper reductions than were planned for or expected. Now DoD is grappling with the serious and immediate challenge of sequester - which is forcing us to take as much as a $41 billion cut in this current fiscal year," Hagel said at the National Defense University at Fort McNair.
He warned that much of the burden of that fiscal pressure will fall on DoD employees.
CNN's Elise Labott looks at how U.S. foreign aid could be affected by the forced spending cuts.
Time is running out: unless Congress acts by March first - $85 billion in massive spending cuts will kick in automatically. Two million federal workers face furloughs.
But one way or another the impact may be felt by most Americans.
The White House warns that 10-thousand teacher jobs would be at risk and 70-thousand children could be removed from Head Start.
The cuts would hit during tax season - meaning millions of taxpayers would have an even tougher time getting answers from the IRS.
CNN's Chris Lawrence has been looking at other areas where you may feel the sting.
By Jamie Crawford
State Department spending would drop by more than $2 billion this year under mandatory, government-wide budget cuts due to take effect in March.
Secretary of State John Kerry detailed the cuts, known formally as sequestration, in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, saying they would have far-reaching consequences.
"Our ability to influence and shape world events, protect U.S. interests, increase job-creating opportunities for American businesses, prevent conflict, protect our citizens overseas, and defeat terrorism before it reaches our shores depends on day-to-day diplomatic engagement and increased prosperity worldwide," Kerry said.
He also said the cuts would "severely impair" efforts to "enhance security" of government facilities overseas and "ensure the safety of the thousands of U.S. diplomats serving the American people abroad."
By: CNN's Ashley Killough
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday his "biggest concern" right now is the uncertainty over budget issues on Capitol Hill.
"If the sequester is allowed to go into effect, I think it could seriously impact on the readiness in the United States," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "And that's a serious issue."
The U.S. military could face the start of $500 billion in budget cuts in about a month if Congress fails to come up with a budget plan that avoids the so-called sequester, a serious of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts spread out over the next decade.
By Barbara Starr
Despite extensive support and counseling programs, as many as 349 U.S. service members committed suicide last year, which would be the highest number since the Department of Defense began keeping detailed statistics in 2001.
According to the Pentagon, 239 military deaths in 2012 have been confirmed as suicides and another 110 are being investigated as probable suicides. The number of suicides in 2011 reached 301; there were 298 the year before.
The statistics on suicides among service members, many of whom had deployed to war zones, included deaths among reserve forces.
Each branch of the service showed an increase. The Army had by far the highest number of suicides and probable suicides - 182, a number that was up from 166 in 2011. The Navy had 60 suicides in 2012 compared with 52 the year before, followed by the Air Force with 59 (up from 51) and the Marine Corps with 48 (up from 32).
By CNN Staff
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered the military to begin implementing cost-cutting measures aimed at mitigating the risk of significant budget cuts should Congress fail to reach a deal in coming months to avert or soften them.
"We have no idea what the hell is going to happen," Panetta said Thursday.
He has asked services to begin "prudent" measures, including curtailing maintenance for non-critical activities and delaying hiring.
The measures must be "reversible" and minimize harmful impacts on military readiness, Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon.
Military departments have also been told to report on how they would implement deep automatic spending cuts, called sequester, and enforce unpaid leave for civilian employees should the reductions occur.
Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey have warned Congress that uncertainty over the absence of a long-term spending agreement, debt-ceiling concerns and the lack of a full congressional budget process is extremely harmful.
By Chris Lawrence
The Pentagon has delayed plans to notify up to 800,000 civilian workers about possible furloughs now that any big spending cuts under the fiscal cliff have been averted.
The tax deal negotiated by the Senate and the White House and approved by Congress on Tuesday would defer substantial cuts in domestic spending, or sequester, for two months.
The Pentagon faced up to $500 billion in spending reductions under congressional plans for the automatic spending cuts.
In a prepared statement, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the deal buys time for lawmakers to come up with a deficit reduction plan that prevents devastating and arbitrary cuts. "Had Congress not acted, the Department of Defense - along with other federal agencies –would have been forced to begin taking dramatic steps that would have severely impacted our civilian personnel and disrupted our mission," Panetta said Wednesday.
While they caught a break this time, defense officials say compressing the timetable could present another challenge if those cuts eventually become law.
By Larry Shaughnessy
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sent a memo this week to all the troops and civilians who work for him to address concerns about the mandatory spending cuts that would occur if the president and lawmakers do not reach a budget agreement by the end of the year.
In it, Panetta wrote that if the procedure, known as sequestration, were to occur, it "would not necessarily require immediate reductions in spending."
He also wrote that "under sequestration, we would still have funds available after Jan. 2, 2013, but our overall funding for the remainder of the year would be reduced."
It's a very different spin on the sequestration from Panetta, who in the past said it would be a "disaster." If this "meat ax" approach to budget cutting were used, he said, it would "hollow out the force."
The cuts are slated to be across the board, totaling roughly $500 billion over 10 years.
Panetta tried to reassure the troops that "the president indicated his intent to exercise his legal authority to exempt military personnel" from the mandatory cuts.
But he couldn't make the same promise to the Defense Department's million or so civilian employees.
Instead he said, "Should we have to operate under reduced funding levels for an extended period of time, we may have to consider furloughs or other actions in the future."
Asked about the change of tone, a senior defense official said, "The secretary continues to believe that sequestration would be devastating and is puzzled that Congress can't reach a deal."
The same official said the memo reflects the Office of Management and Budget's view of the issue, especially with respect to furloughs.
Panetta wrapped up the memo by writing, "I want to assure you that we will do our very best to provide clear information about the status of events as they unfold."
By Mike Mount
The White House has ordered the military to start planning for the possibility of cutting $500 billion from its budget over the next 10 years as part of the fiscal cliff, Pentagon officials said on Wednesday.
Agency spokesman George Little told reporters that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) instructed the Defense Department to start internal planning for possible spending reductions on top of other cuts already in the pipeline.
The military had been ordered for months not to get ready for the automatic budget cuts - also known as sequestration - related to the fiscal cliff that would hit January 2.
"Naturally, we hope very much that sequestration will be avoided and that we don't enter that phase in early January 2013. We don't want to go off the fiscal cliff, but in consultation with OMB, we think that it is prudent at this stage to begin at least some limited internal planning," Little said.
The fiscal cliff is a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that are due to take effect if the White House and Congress cannot agree on a framework for tackling deficit-reduction by year's end.