- - Thursday, January 31, 2013

The economic and national security of our country is in jeopardy. The purpose of the Budget Control Act was to force the executive and legislative branches to compromise on ways to effectively reduce our deficit. Failure to do this would trigger sequestration — deep, arbitrary cuts to government programs. National security programs alone were targeted to lose $492 billion. The non-prioritized cuts were intended to be so devastating to our economic security that no one would dare let them happen — at least that is what was promised before the elections.

Though the House compromised early this month and agreed to a Senate bill to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” lawmakers did not address the issue of sequestration. They merely extended the deadline for two months. This only adds to the uncertainty of our nation’s security and economic well-being.

Until recently, homeland security and defense leaders remained silent on how they would attempt to work around sequestration’s indiscriminate cuts. For our military and civilian defense and homeland security leaders, the writing on the wall is perfectly clear: Congress and the president do not have their backs. Defense leaders have begun to issue guidance on how to prepare for the coming storm. The Department of Defense has directed the military services to take action in preparation for sequestration and operation under a continuing resolution, including laying off many of the department’s 46,000 temporary workers, furloughing 800,000 full-time civilian employees and freezing all additional civilian hiring.

Although it has become crystal clear that military leaders cannot rely on our elected officials, they know they can count on members of the Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and Army to find ways to do their jobs — with fewer resources if necessary — regardless of what happens in Washington. Yet the services are stretched so thin that they no longer will be able to do more with less. In fact, Gen. Martin Dempsey and his fellow Joint Chiefs of Staff sent a letter to Congress stating that because of ever-increasing requirements matched with arbitrary, draconian cuts, our military is at its highest risk in decades of becoming a hollow force.

In addition to the looming threat of sequestration, Defense is operating under yet another continuing resolution because of Congress’ failure to pass a budget. Continuing resolutions increase the strain on the nation’s ability to meet national security requirements.

Because of the long lead time requirement, the department has canceled all third- and fourth-quarter ship and aircraft maintenance activities effective Feb. 16 — two full weeks before sequestration would go into effect. Such actions lead to costly schedule delays, production breaks and acquisition inefficiencies. The result adds to, rather than reduces, the deficit.

One of the few guarantees is preserving pay for our active-duty military and retirees, and providing care for our wounded warriors. The future of almost every other program is uncertain, including family programs, combat readiness training, maintenance of equipment and development of capabilities and requirements for the administration’s national security strategy that rebalances the force toward the Pacific.

Because of an anticipated budget shortfall of billions of dollars for executing the requirements of fiscal 2013, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert directed the curtailment of nearly all planned ship and aircraft maintenance availabilities at private shipyards and depots. Analysts have reported that the impact would be most severe in Virginia, with more than $4.6 billion in cuts over the next eight months. Because the services will have no choice but to stop nearly all non-deployed operations for training and exercises, sequestration will leave America with a force that is ill-equipped and unprepared.

Political games and one-upmanship threaten the combat readiness of our armed forces and give a slap in the face to the men and women who protect and preserve our freedom. National security is not a partisan issue. Congress and President Obama must stop the gamesmanship of sequestration and approve a federal budget.

The departments of Homeland Security and Defense should be allowed to do their jobs and make prioritized decisions for much-needed budget reductions, not be forced into arbitrary cuts that make little sense to anyone.

This is not a problem to be left for the next fiscal year or next administration. Our nation’s combat readiness is deteriorating before the eyes of our do-nothing elected leaders. The American people must demand they do something now, or the hollow forces of the 1970s and 1990s will lead our economy and our country into a decades-long decline.

Dale Lumme, national executive director of the Navy League of the United States, is a retired Navy captain.

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