In an age of partisan gridlock and politics at the expense of governance, the series of budget cuts handed to the Department of Defense known as the sequestration is among the most damaging our military has ever faced. We must take a deep breath and realize in this current world, we no longer have the hegemonic relationship of power we’ve become accustomed to. After this reality sinks in, our leaders in Congress must take the necessary steps allow the Department of Defense to make cuts in a strategic and long term fashion, or risk not only hobbling our military, but also costing us more money in the process.
With all the politically charged rhetoric being broadcast about the sequestration, let us first examine what it really is. The sequester, also known as the Budget Control Act, was designed to be a series of automatic spending cuts that were written into law in 2011 so that Congress would write a compromise budget which would reduce deficits. This set of cuts were designed to be so damaging, that Congress was forced to compromise and avoid a situation where military readiness would be affected in a negative way. Unfortunately for the country, the original authors did not foresee Congress becoming even more partisan than it was at the time. Because of this unfortunate lack of vision, no compromises were made and the sequester came into effect for FY 2012. According the Government Accountability Office, due to Congress not being able to reduce the budget deficit projected over the next 10 years by $1.2 trillion, a series of automatic spending cuts were initiated with a FY 2013 reduction $42.667 billion (Poling p6). The cuts will continue to increase until otherwise changed by law, totaling $52 billion in FY 2014 from a total budget of $527 billion. Any organization would be hard hit by a 10% in their budget; however, the Department of Defense is not just any organization. This is due to the fact that procurement and personnel are not controlled by elements of the military, but by Congress itself. This is manifested in weapons programs and properties which become the financial responsibility of the military, though they have no control in deciding whether or not it is wanted or even needed.
While procurement and weapons systems are a large chunk of financial obligations, the current collection of facilities that the Department of Defense owns is simply massive. A report from Defense Department Comptroller Robert F. Hale states that the DOD has a “real-property portfolio of more than 500,000 facilities and a plant-replacement value of more than $800 billion” (Pellerin par. 19). This assortment of real estate includes everything from training facilities and aircraft hangers to Department of Defense schools and research stations. Now because of funding cuts, the majority of projects being completed are safety related (Pellerin par. 12). Without some sort of change in funding, the facilities currently in the care of the military will begin to deteriorate to the point where there will be a “steady increase in failing or unusable facilities” (Pellerin par. 19). Without a solution, this process will cost us dearly in facilities and equipment which if not properly maintained, will fall into disrepair beyond the point of salvage.
On a more personal note, this sequester has affected what I believe is our most important resource that we should be cultivating, and that is the next generation of personnel. The hiring process for entry and mid-level staff has all but ceased, depriving the defense and intelligence communities of an entire generation of well qualified applicants who have grown up in a quickly changing world. With the glut of baby boomers who are beginning to retire in droves, a large gap of knowledge is about to be created without those older generations passing on their hard earned lessons to what would have been their eventual replacements. This is not an esoteric problem. Anyone knows that in a job, if you don’t get a good turnover from an old employee to a new one, the new employee will not be as effective in their work. This takes on a new degree of severity when instead of not knowing where the printer ink is kept, the knowledge lost deals with national security. The FBI has shut down their entire training program for special agents, the DIA has not posted an entry level analyst job in months and the DOD is grappling with questions of how to keep the lights on in all of their buildings with the prospect of even bigger cuts looming this year on top of the sequester (Reilly par. 1).
One solution to this problem advocated by many within the Defense Community would be to simply reduce the number of facilities occupied by the military. This is achieved through a program known as Base Realignment and Closure or BRAC. The former director of the US Defense Department’s Cost Assessment Program Evaluation office Christine Fox examines some of the myths associated with military cost cutting. One often cited area where savings could be found is in the so called “pork filled Pentagon bureaucracy”; however one must realize that more than 85 % of Defense Department civilian employees (the majority of whom are currently affected by sequester induced furloughs) reside outside of the Washington D.C. area (Fox par. 6). This reality also shows the difficulty associated with these immediate cuts as well as why the sequestration is a political stunt not associated with long term cost cutting. While previous rounds of BRAC had upfront costs, the current yearly savings has reached $12 billion (Pellerin par. 25). But base closure, personnel numbers, weapons procurement as well as pay and benefits are all untouchable items for military leadership. This, according to Fox, effectively results in between one-third and one half of the military’s budget being off limits (Fox par. 13).
When all is said and done, the conclusion one must come to is this; the sequester is painful and unnecessary. The Department of Defense is being hamstringed coming up with immediate cuts that do not help with long term budget issues, with the only reason being because Democrats and Republicans can’t seem to agree on things as simple as keeping the lights on. There are savings to be found, however a large amount of it is off the table for military planners who are beholden to their partisan civilian bosses in Congress. Whether it is negligence or ignorant bliss, our elected representatives need to understand that our armed forces are not predestined to be the preeminent fighting force on this planet. It requires thoughtful planning where the bottom line is readiness, not home district jobs. Until the legislature realizes this, our ability to react and project our influence will be degraded. Our only hope is that our leadership in Washington comes to their senses before too much damage has been done.
Fox, Christine. “Stop Pretending Enforced Cuts Won’t Be Harmful.” Defense News 15 Sep 2013, n. pag. Web. 23 Sep. 2013.
Poling, Susan. United States. Government Accountability Office. March 1 Joint Committee Sequestration for Fiscal Year 2013. 2013. Web.
Pellerin, Cheryl. ” Hale: Sequestration Devastates U.S. Military Readiness.” American Forces Press Service 10 May 2013, n. pag. Web. 23 Sep. 2013.
Reilly, Ryan. “FBI Sequestration Has Shut Down Training At Quantico: James Comey .” Huffingtonpost. 19 Sep 2013: n. page. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.