DoD Comptroller Robert Hale, left, seen here in a photo earlier this year, appeared before the the House Armed Services Committee to discuss sequestration budget cuts. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released)

Sequestration is ‘very bad policy’

A Department of Defense (DoD) comptroller and four Armed Forces’ vice chiefs of staff warned the House Armed Services Committee about the bad effects sequestration will have on America's military.

During a Sept. 20 hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, DoD Comptroller Robert Hale said sequestration budget cuts are a "very bad policy" that will lead to reduced military forces and "fewer options to respond quickly to emerging crises." The vice chiefs of staff for the Armed Forces essentially agreed with Hale. The four men included Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III, Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson, Air Force Gen. Larry Spencer and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford.

Before the DoD panelists testified, Committee Chair Buck McKeon, R-Calif., told them "now is not the time for ambiguity. In your testimony, I urge each of you to be as clear with us as you possibly can about what the road ahead portends for the implementation of sequestration. This could well be the last opportunity for our military to get these facts on the record, before the deadline for legislative remedy has passed."

Hale said that sequestration, due to begin on Jan. 2, was "designed by law to be inflexible, it was never intended to be implemented. It was enacted as a prod, as I think you all know, for both houses of Congress to devise a comprehensive plan to reduce the federal deficit."

If sequestration is not averted, national defense funding will lose $54.7 billion for fiscal 2013 — $52.3 billion of it from the DoD budget. That means spending on programs will be cut across the board by 9.4 percent, except for spending on military personnel.

Because funding for overseas contingency operations will also be subject to sequestration, DoD will have to cut other programs even more drastically to ensure that America’s warfighting capabilities aren’t compromised.

"We will protect the wartime operating budgets to the extent that we can," Hale said. "The support of our warfighters is our highest priority," but that will mean greater cuts to operations and maintenance accounts, especially for the Army and Marine Corps. "And that will result in reductions in training."

Reduced training would affect the military’s ability to fight future wars, Hale said. Sequestration would also have adverse effects on weapons and system procurement, research and development, construction and the military’s civilian work force. Military retirees and military families would also suffer, Hale said, because "we’d have to cut family housing maintenance, we’d have to cut base operating support. We try to protect families wherever we can, but we have to make some of these cuts."

There would be cuts in the defense health program, too, which could lead to delays in TRICARE payments to health-care providers and future denials of service.

Such consequences would be felt in fiscal 2013, but the budget cuts would continue until fiscal 2021. "Over time," Hale said, "sequestration would lead to reduced forces, fewer aircraft carriers, brigade combat teams and fighters. We would have fewer options to respond quickly to emerging crises."

Calling the automatic budget cuts a "very bad policy," Hale expressed the hope that Congress "will pass a balanced deficit reduction plan the president can sign, and that halts sequestration."

In his statement, Gen. Austin noted that the Army is already operating under the Budget Control Act, which is cutting about $490 billion in defense spending over the next decade; sequestration would cut an additional $550 billion. Such drastic budget reductions, Austin said, represent "a rigid solution that would apply these cuts in indiscriminate and arbitrary fashion, nearly across the board. And as such, these cuts will adversely affect just about every aspect of our army."

The Navy’s budget stands to lose nearly $12 billion in fiscal 2013, Adm. Ferguson told the committee, which would force "difficult choices" to be made in fleet operations and maintenance, procurement and force structure. Such a reduction "will translate to reduced flying hours for our air crews, fewer under way days, training for our ships and submarines, and less maintenance for the fleet," Ferguson said.

The budget cuts include a loss of $4 billion in the Navy’s shipbuilding program. Ferguson added that the impact of sequestration, "will translate, over time, to a smaller force with less presence, longer response times, and reduced ability" that will be "unable to execute the requirements of the current defense strategy."

More than two decades of sustained combat operations have taken their toll on the Air Force, Gen. Spencer said, yet the men and women who serve are still getting the job done.

"Our nation is fortunate to have world-class people who work hard to produce world-class air power every day," he said. "Sequestration will leave the Air Force with people who are not adequately trained, who lack the equipment they need, and who must make do with weapon systems that are not fully equipped — representing a hollow force unable to support the current defense strategic guidance."

Gen. Dunford said the Marine Corps would experience challenges similar to those of the other services. "We would suffer a significant degradation in readiness, we would be unable to properly support our military strategy, we would incur costs and schedule delays across our investment account, and would be unable to properly maintain our infrastructure."

The "inflexible cuts" of sequestration "will have a chaotic effect on the force during a time of extraordinary challenges to our nation," he said. Then he shared one more major concern about sequestration.

"For the last 10 years, our Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen have done all we have asked them to do.... The majority of our young men and women in uniform ... are too busy doing their jobs right now to worry about the exact details about how we develop and pass budgets.

"They care about, and they are affected by, what we do in Washington. But they actually don’t think much about us on a daily basis — nor should they have to.... One of my greatest concerns about sequestration ... is that we will lose the trust and confidence of the all-volunteer force that we have worked so hard to build."