WASHINGTON—U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned Friday that uncertainty surrounding sequestration will effect the Defense Department’s (DOD) ability to protect core national security interests.
“It puts at risk our ability to effectively fulfill all of our missions,” he told reporters at the Pentagon in his first press conference as secretary of defense.
Accompanied by Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Hagel said that he had just come from a meeting with the joint chiefs of staff to discuss sequestration.
“Leadership in the Pentagon … [has] two serious concerns: first, the abrupt and arbitrary cuts imposed by sequester; and second, the lack of budget management flexibility that we now face under the current continuing resolution,” Hagel said.
The former Nebraska senator said that $47 billion must be cut from the DOD over the next seven months. While the cuts may not be noticeable immediately, the DOD is already feeling the consequences, according to Hagel, and the impact is likely to gain in momentum as the year progresses.
“As sequester continues, we will be forced to assume more risk with steps that will progressively have far-reaching effects,” Hagel said.
Specifically, the secretary said that the Navy will gradually stand down four air wings, the first starting in April.
“Effective immediately, Air Force flying hours will be cut back,” Hagel said. “This will have a major impact on training and readiness.”
The Army will also curtail training, he said, noting that training for units deployed to Afghanistan will not be affected, but that it will require deeper cuts in other areas. The cutbacks will end training for nearly 80 percent of Army operational units, he said.
“Later this month, we intend to issue preliminary notifications to thousands of civilian employees who will be furloughed,” Hagel said of the 800,000 civilians employed by the defense forces, 86 percent of which live outside the Washington, D.C., area.
The department has already taken steps to cut spending in anticipation of the cuts associated with the sequester, according to Hagel. These included delaying deployment of Navy ships, cutting back on facilities maintenance, laying off temporary and term employees, and freezing civilian hiring.
The sequester comes on top of nearly $500 billion in cuts to defense spending imposed on the DOD as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (S. 365)—the act that established the sequester.
“If sequester continues and the continuing resolution is extended in its current form, other damaging effects will become apparent,” Hagel said, adding, “Our number-one concern is our people—military and civilian—the millions of men and women of this department who work very hard every day to ensure America’s security.”
Hagel added that he and DOD leaders will do everything they can to encourage Congress resolve the impasse.
“Specifically, we need a balanced deficit reduction plan that leads to an end to sequestration,” he said. “And we need Congress to pass appropriations bills for DOD and all federal agencies.”
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