Pentagon Comptroller: Sequestration Damaged Military

“We’re a month and a half into [fiscal] 2014, and I still don’t know within $30 billion to $50 billion the amount of money that we’ll have to spend in this year,” said Pentagon Comptroller Robert F. Hale last month at the Reagan National Defense Forum held at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. According to Hale, the budget problems that continue to plague the government are the worst he’s seen in 40 years of service.

While it was a foregone conclusion that sequestration would hurt the military and the defense department, no one knew for certain how bad it would be. Hale warned that if sequestration continues, it’s impossible to know just how bad things will get for the defense community in terms of readiness and morale.

The ongoing concern over the budget “has done serious damage to this military,” Hale said during a panel discussion moderated by Thom Shanker of the New York Times:

“Readiness has been affected, and I would say we have done serious damage to the morale and productivity of our civilian workforce.”

Hale pointed to five shutdown planning drills, operating under constant continuing resolutions due to the lack of a budget, in the last fiscal year that led to furloughs and the government shutdown as the reason for the less than positive sentiments defense department employees have about the financial future of the department.

At another interview just days earlier, Hale said the DoD has taken on an enormous risk on readiness because of the long-term financial problems.

“Unfortunately, last year we also underestimated somewhat our wartime budget, so we faced a $30 billion shortfall in our operating budget with six months to go — about 15 percent,” he added. “And we did have to jam on the fiscal brakes.”

Hale compared the nation’s defense to an insurance policy and said that sequestration significantly raised the deductible. He went on to say that if the country never needs to make a claim against the policy then the effects of sequestration would go largely unnoticed. However, if the country did need that insurance in the event of a contingency operation, it would quickly become apparent how much readiness has suffered.

The readiness of the force was also the focus of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s speech at the forum. He drew the comparison between the force that was in place when President Reagan took office and the force we have today, saying that a “hollow force” was in place then, just as we are facing under sequestration now, and it became a priority of the Reagan administration to change that, as it should be in the current administration.

“The department is currently facing sequester-level cuts on the order of $500 billion over 10 years,” Hagel said. “This is in addition to the ten-year, $487 billion reduction in DoD’s budget that is already underway. That means we are looking at nearly one trillion dollars in DoD cuts over this 10-year period, unless there is a new budget agreement.”

He called the cuts associated with sequestration “too steep, too deep and too abrupt.” Hagel said sequestration is irresponsible and leads to poor management of already sparse resources:

“Implementing the 10 percent across-the-board cut required by sequestration, the department has been forced to absorb even steeper reductions in the budgetary accounts that fund training, maintenance and procurement — the core of military readiness.”

So what can be done to lessen the effects of the continued uncertainty? According to Hagel and Hale, the only solution lies with Congress. Hagel has repeatedly called on Congress to pass a budget and allow the defense department more flexibility in the cuts that need to be made.

Can this Congress pass a budget deal that eases concerns within the defense department?

“We need some budgetary stability out of the Congress,” Hale said. “I hope it comes about.”

Hagel shared the same sentiment in his speech at the forum.

“We need the certainty of a budget,” Hagel said. “This perpetual dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over this department further hinders responsible and wise planning and confidence.”