While the defense department has worked to spare military families much of the brunt of the sequestration cuts of 2013, that may not be possible going into the 2014 fiscal year. Budget uncertainty and politics-as-usual may mean that military families will have to do more with less.
On July 23, the House approved an amendment to the appropriations bill that would prohibit the furlough of civilian DoD employees in FY2014. The bill would force cuts to be made “from other areas within the department’s budget,” according to Georgia representative John Barrow (GA-12), who sponsored the bill.
The problem is that “other areas” include programs that active duty members and their families depend on, in addition to operating budgets that pay for things like fuel for ships and planes and food in chow halls. This could also be very bad for civilian DoD employees, as it could mean that they simply lose their jobs altogether, instead of just losing a few days of work.
On August 6, the DoD announced that it was able to reduce the number of days civilian workers would be furloughed from 11 to 6, meaning that furloughed employees would be back to work full time by the end of August.
Furloughs are over, effective immediately, for DoD Education Activity personnel, allowing teachers and support personnel to begin the school year without having to worry about it. However, looking forward to the 2014 fiscal year, there is more uncertainty.
This has been one of the most volatile and uncertain budget cycles the Department of Defense has ever experienced, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in his announcement on reducing civilian furloughs. “As we look ahead to fiscal year 2014, less than two months away, the Department of Defense still faces major fiscal challenges.”
There is another round of cuts that will automatically be made in the coming year if something isn’t done to stop them, to the tune of $52 billion. According to Hagel, “it would create “an extremely severe package of military personnel actions including halting all accessions, ending all permanent change-of-station moves, stopping discretionary bonuses and freezing all promotions.”
Here’s what that means:
- Military members wouldn’t be promoted, and those recently promoted may not get paid for their new rank, as there is often a waiting period between assuming rank and being paid for it.
- Military families wouldn’t be moving to new duty stations, or those who are leaving the military would be responsible for moving themselves back to their home area.
- Certain bonuses would be gone.
- A significant reduction in recruiting efforts.
- A new round of personnel cuts.
- There is talk of permanently closing stateside commissaries, the DoD’s answer to grocery stores, which saves shoppers about 30 percent on average over civilian stores.
- Housing allowances are on the table as well, however Congress has to approve any reduction by law.
“If Congress does not approve these proposals, even more cuts in combat power, readiness and modernization would be needed,” Hagel said in his letter.
The Strategic Choices and Management Review that was undertaken by the DoD to look at the effects of sequestration showed a number of flaws in the automatic cuts. The SCMR also showed that, if allowed to continue, the effect on national security, civilian employees, military members and their families would be devastating.
“Its findings are sobering,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told Congress on August 1. “The things we have to do under sequestration are not strategic — they’re dumb.”
The SCMR did find President Obama’s proposed budget would allow the implementation of the main points of the defense strategic guidance, Carter said. However, if sequestration continues, he said, the DoD would be forced to make more “significant” changes.
Force reductions would be necessary under the president’s budget scenario, Carter said, but they would be done in such a way that would have a minimal impact on force readiness.
Automatic cuts pose a significant threat to national security and are damaging to the country’s image around the world, Carter said.
“Friends and potential enemies around the world are watching our behavior,” he said, “We’re accepting unnecessary risk. It’s embarrassing and unsafe to be in the situation we are in.”