The Pentagon’s No. 2 official has issued a new warning to Defense Department civilians and commanders not to make any plans for automatic budget cuts that are set to take effect Jan. 2, even as Congress and the White House show no sign of halting the cuts.
In fact, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter does not even want military leaders to suggest in conversation with employees that the cuts might happen.
“I am … directing that all commanders and managers in the Department of Defense continue the defense mission under current laws and policies, without taking any steps that assume sequestration will occur,” Mr. Carter said in a memo Tuesday to top brass, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
The Office of Management and Budget recently estimated the military would suffer $50 billion in automatic spending cuts in fiscal 2013, which begins Monday. Over 10 years, the Pentagon’s overall reductions would equal nearly $1 trillion.
There are virtually no ongoing talks to avoid the automatic cuts, known as sequestration. Some military analysts say they doubt a post-election deal can be achieved before a new Congress is seated next year.
The first year of cuts under the Budget Control Act requires across-the-board reductions, likely meaning the elimination of employee positions, canceled contracts and a slow down in training.
Yet Mr. Carter wrote that preparing for that possibility now would alarm the workforce.
“Commanders should not, for example, curtail planned training, maintenance, health care or family programs,” he wrote. “Commanders and managers should not alarm our employees and their families by announcing personnel actions related to sequestration or by suggesting that these actions are likely.”
To some in the defense industry, the Pentagon is taking the wrong approach.
One senior executive told The Times that if the Defense Department actually issued a plan, it might scare Congress and the White House into hammering out a deal.
“Put on your blinders, and we’re going to keep doing business as usual despite sequestration right around the corner” is how the executive described the Pentagon’s strategy.
“They should be organizing a budget drill where they say, ‘Air Force, this is your bill. Army, this is your bill. Now tell me how you are going to take it,’” the executive said. “If you want to get sequestration overturned, then publish that to put pressure on Congress. If you don’t turn this around before Jan. 2, this is what we’re going to do.”
Wrote Mr. Carter: “We do not want our programs, personnel and activities to begin to suffer the harmful effects of sequestration while there is still a chance it can be avoided.”