In a letter to Congress, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel offered his first formal assessment of the effects of massive spending cuts planned for the Pentagon. Congress as a kind of motivating factor to achieve a more balanced approach to deficit reduction put the spending cuts, known as sequestration, in place. However since Congress failed to reach an agreement, the defense budget now faces across the board cuts over the next decade. As sequestration loomed Pentagon officials were accused of using hyperbole to describe the nature of the cuts; former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called sequestration “legislative madness” and said the cuts “guarantees that we hollow out the military”. While these comments may indeed be over the top, cuts on the magnitude of $50 billion per year will clearly have long-term structural effects on the defense of our country.
The defense industrial base has done very well over the past ten years, making about a billion dollars each day fulfilling government contracts. Clearly there is bloat in the system that needs to be cut, most recently exemplified by a $34 million military facility in Afghanistan that has never nor ever will be used. However the nature of sequestration makes targeting these inefficiencies nearly irrelevant and instead calls for massive cuts which can sometimes be indiscriminate. Starting this past April the Pentagon began furloughing nearly 800,000 employees, basically the entire civilian workforce. In an often-repeated comparison, the sequestration has been called a meat cleaver whereas a scalpel would be much preferred to deal with waste.
In his letter Hagel warned, “The size, readiness and technological superiority of our military will be reduced, placing at much greater risk the country’s ability to meet our current national security commitments.” While Hagel mentioned a few specifics related to the cuts, such as more training drills being canceled for the Army and Air Force, the letter was a broader overview for what the next ten years will look like, for real action to be taken more specifics are needed.
In order for Congress to be forced into action they need to know what is really being cut and what the next few years will look like. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) had requested a more detailed plan from the Pentagon by July 1st. If sequestration is such an urgent crises the Pentagon should have been able to fulfill this deadline.
Hyperbole and broad assertions of devastation to the military was already tried to get Congress to act in a more responsible way, that has not worked. Since sequestration is now the law, Secretary Hagel may wish to take this further and be more specific in what is being planned for over the next decade, otherwise these cuts are likely to stay in place.