When members of Congress return from their August recess, their plates will be very full. Our legislators need to fund the government for the next fiscal year, which starts October first. Although it may seem like a simple task to keep the government operating, a potential partisan collision over raising the debt ceiling once again presents the threat of a government shutdown. Even if the two parties and two chambers can agree and prevent this from happening, Congress’s recent habit of punting on appropriations bills and funding the government through a Continuing Resolution limits implementation of important national security programs and continues to delay new starts.
This is no way to run a great nation – much less defend it. After several months of sequestration, painful national security impacts are being felt due to the joint Congressional-White House decision to indiscriminately and severely cut defense spending over a nine-year period.
The Pentagon furloughed 650,000 civilian employees that have had very negative impacts, such as delayed testing schedules for the F-35 program and diminishing the work capacity of personnel. Reductions to Army training, Navy ship deployments and Air Force flying time have degraded military readiness. Thirteen air squadrons were recently grounded for three months from April to July.
In addition, the national security industrial base supply chain is beginning to hurt. In May and June, AIA surveyed small and mid-sized supplier companies and found that 88 percent have already experienced negative impacts from budget cuts. Of those, 84 percent have seen reduced revenues or profits, 62 percent have reduced production levels in the past two years, 60 percent saw contract postponements and cancellations, 49 percent had to institute hiring freezes, and 45 percent were already forced to lay off employees.
As we move forward with sequestration, the impacts will only grow. Given the way DoD chose to fill a portion of the sequestration hole in Fiscal Year 2013 using unobligated funds, some programs are potentially two years behind schedule. The impacts will get worse in Fiscal Year 2014 when we won’t have the cushion of unobligated balances to fall back on as we did this fiscal year. All the while personnel costs continue to grow at unprecedented levels.
Beginning October 1st, absent a bipartisan budget solution, the Pentagon will have to absorb an additional $52 billion in cuts, hitting everything from procurement, research and development, readiness operations and personnel. The harsh reality is that DoD already has more than paid its due. Defense spending represents only 18 percent of our national budget but, under the Budget Control Act, the Pentagon has absorbed 50 percent of the reductions to date. Combining sequestration with budget cuts already mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act, we’re staring at nearly a trillion dollars in defense cuts over the next nine years.
On the last day of July, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel outlined the work of the Strategic Choices and Management Review, something that should greatly concern everyone who cares about our national security. The review, amongst other things, laid out two different potential approaches if sequestration had to be implemented over the long-haul. The approaches, said Hagel, contain trade-offs “between capacity – measured in the number of Army brigades, Navy ships, Air Force squadrons and Marine battalions – and capability, our ability to modernize weapons systems to maintain our military’s technological edge.” The Washington Post called on the administration to pay more attention to the damage of extensive defense cuts, concluding:
“The country’s defense is a core responsibility of the federal government, and its armed forces are critical to the nation’s ability to exert leadership, maintain alliances, defend human rights and preserve the nation’s safety.”
So what can be done now to repeal the sequestration cuts? Although both political parties still seem to be at a stalemate, I believe there is an underlying unease in Washington about what these cuts are doing to our national security capabilities. This unease could create the political conditions necessary for real negotiations to end this mess.
Some basic facts may help our lawmakers focus on a way out. Later this fall, Congress will vote again on raising the debt ceiling, the very issue that created the budget crisis. The critical need is for a solution that addresses our long-term debt and deficit issues without risking investments in our national security and other important priorities such as modernization of the nation’s air transportation system and development of next generation weather satellites.
Then there is the issue of what continuing sequestration will mean for our military capabilities in the long run. Underinvestment in procurement and research and development will inevitably lead to a loss of capability in the defense industrial base as companies shift resources into more stable and profitable business lines.
For example, for the first time in American aviation history, we have no new manned military aircraft in the development phase. This situation began in 2010, and if we do not begin programs like the long range strike bomber soon, we could very easily lose the ability to design and develop new manned aircraft.
Without investment and programs to work on, our defense industrial base could well lose the ability to fill critical requirements of our national security strategy. That loss could harm our ability to equip our men and women in uniform with best technology. We have an obligation to our warfighters to provide them with equipment that tilts the battlefield in their favor. But we need stable, predictable and adequate budgets to fulfill that obligation.
It is my hope that those members of Congress, who rank budget cutting as a higher priority than the need to provide safety and security to the American people will see the train wreck ahead and begin to soften their position. I also hope that those members who are unwilling to even consider modest alterations to entitlement programs – which will help pave the way for a grand bargain – will recognize that these programs are unsustainable, and demographic realities will compel reforms. We are now six months into a policy that has repercussions for our national interests that will only get worse with time.
Those who care deeply about national security should keep communicating with our elected officials in Congress and the White House about the need for a solution to sequestration before it truly is too late.