By Mike Mount
The Pentagon's chief budget officer is ringing the alarm bell about looming budget cuts that could destroy the department's new defense strategy and force the defense industry to face "absurdities" as defense programs are shuttered.
"This is not the way to do defense planning and budgeting," said Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
Carter was speaking to reporters Wednesday in Washington about the effects of sequestration, a possible automatic cut in the defense budget of more than half a trillion dollars over the next 10 years. Sequestration would kick in starting in January 2013 if President Obama and Congress cannot come to agreement on cuts in the overall budget.
Carter is the latest senior Pentagon official to speak against sequestration. His boss, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, has called sequestration a "meat ax" while the nation's highest-ranking military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, has warned that the cuts would be catastrophic, leaving the military with a hollowed-out force.
"Sequester would have devastating effects on our readiness and our workforce and disrupt thousands of contracts and programs," Carter said.
The cuts would be piled on top of the already $500 billion in defense spending cuts set by the White House over the next 10 years as part of a longer-term budget strategy.
Panetta has said the Pentagon is not planning for cuts because the White House's Office of Management and Budget has told them not to until the summer.
"There is not a hell of a lot of planning I can do," because sequestration makes automatic and equally distributed cuts across Department of Defense accounts, using a "meat-ax" approach, he said.
In February, speaking before the House Budget Committee, Panetta said planning could start this summer if Congress had not made a deal on the budget.
In a letter sent in November to Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Panetta said the effects of sequestration would create the smallest ground force since before World War II, the smallest Navy since before World War I, the smallest tactical fighter force in Air Force history and the smallest civilian work force in the history of the Department of Defense.
Some in Congress are trying to warn Americans about what can be an obscure and often confusing topic for those who do not follow Washington's yearly budget dramas.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Virginia and a member of the House Armed Service Committee, has been on a nationwide "listening session," where those attending can share their stories, ask questions and voice their opinions on how massive cuts to the defense budget would affect their communities.
If the cuts move forward, there will be a potential ripple effect in the defense industry as small to large defense contractors and suppliers potentially see layoffs and businesses possibly close around the country.
"Our military and civilian program managers would face absurdities that result from the arbitrariness with which sequestration would take effect, " Carter said.
"This applies to the managers in the defense industry as well, our partners in providing weapon systems to the force," he said.