On the eve of automatic budget cuts, new Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel tried to warn against the damage of the cuts, but at the same time reassure the Pentagon's workforce that a consensus would be reached to avert them.
The "abrupt and arbitrary" cuts of $500 billion over the next 10 years, as well as a continuing resolution holding defense funding this year to 2012 levels, risked the Department's ability to fulfill its missions and would worsen as time continued, he said at his first press conference with reporters at the Pentagon.
"As sequester continues, we will be forced to assume more risk with steps that will progressively have far-reaching effects," he said. For example, he said, the Navy will gradually stand down at least four air wings beginning April, Air Force flying hours will be cut back, and the Army would curtail training for all units except those deploying.
Thousands of civilian employees will begin to receive preliminary furlough notifications in March, he said.
"I know that these budget cuts will cause pain, particularly among our civilian workforce and their families. I'm also concerned, as we all are, about the impact on readiness that these cuts will have across our force," he added.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who spoke after Mr. Hagel, urged defense civilians to continue serving.
"44 percent of them are veterans — they do real things that are really important to us. And they've had their pay frozen for years. Now they're subject to furlough," he said. "I hope they'll stick with us — because of mission, because they're committed to what we do, which is defend the country and help to make a better world. That's why they do it."
Meanwhile, some GOP lawmakers are now focusing on passing a 2013 defense appropriations bill instead of extending the continuing resolution that expires March 27, which would allow the Pentagon flexibility to reallocate some money within accounts this year, and mitigate at least some of the effects of sequestration.
"I have confidence that we will eventually see a consensus," Mr. Hagel said. "And that's the only way that we're going to get out of this. This is a partnership … this is a republic. And it is the executive and the congressional branches working together to find a way out. If you listen to our leaders, all are saying the same thing: We need to find a way to resolve the issue. And that's the only way out."
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