Why Pentagon won't say how it would cut $55 billion starting Jan. 1
The Pentagon may finally be planning for dreaded spending cuts set to take effect in the new year, though it is mum on any specifics. It wants Congress to come up with a different solution to US deficit spending.
The Pentagon is staring at some $55 billion in spending cuts – 10.5 percent of its annual budget – that it will have to make immediately come January, if Congress does not act before then to avert the "fiscal cliff." Officials there, no fan of these automatic cuts or of the process on Capitol Hill that spawned them, have alternately called this approach to financial discipline a "blind meat ax," a "goofy meat ax," and "fiscal castration."Skip to next paragraph
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In fact, they assert that the impact of the cuts is so grim – and poses such an “unacceptable risk” to America’s national security, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey has warned – that the Pentagon refuses to even plan for them.
Why, in a building filled with US military commanders who pride themselves on preparing for every contingency, particularly those considered dire, is there such a reluctance to plan – or at least to acknowledge any planning – for severe spending cuts mandated under this Washington budgetary regimen known as sequestration?
One reason is because the Pentagon would then have to show its cards, some argue. That is, it would have to tell Congress how it would reallocate funds from its lesser priorities to its higher priorities, says Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), warned back in August.
“Once you show people there are higher- and lower-priority items in your budget, then the lower-priority items become the target, and they’re likely to get cut no matter what,” he says. Mr. Harrison is one who suggests that the Pentagon “would be wise to start planning.”
There are some hints that may be happening, sub rosa. Earlier this month, one official gave some indication that Pentagon planning for sequestration has at last begun.
“We get a certain amount of criticism for not planning for sequestration,” said Frank Kendall, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition. “We actually are starting to do some planning.”
Immediately, official Pentagon spokespeople rushed to clarify his remarks, made to the little-watched Government Contract Management Conference in Washington. “By ‘planning,’ [Kendall] was stating that the department is working closely with [the White House Office of Management and Budget] to understand the law and assess its impacts,” Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins said.
Pentagon officials have always maintained that sequestration rules do not leave them much to plan for.