Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addresses troops at Fort Bragg, N.C. on Monday.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addresses troops at Fort Bragg, N.C. on Monday. DoD

Layoffs Loom for Hagel's Top Staff

With sequestration likely to continue into next fiscal year, Hagel warns that he might have to lay off some of his senior staff. By Stephanie Gaskell

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will likely cut the staffs of the his office, the joint chiefs of Staff and the combatant commands by 20 percent if sequestration continues into next fiscal year.

Hagel delivered the sobering news during a stop at Naval Air Station Jacksonville on Tuesday, part of a three-day listening tour of military bases to talk to discuss budget cuts with troops.

Hagel knows full well that he’s presiding over an era of fiscal belt-tightening after more than a decade of war, but he said the sequester “is not a good way to do it.”

"You don't save any money at the front end when you RIF (reduction in force) people. In fact it costs you more money. It's just a dumb way to do things,” Hagel said. “Sequestration is an irresponsible deferral of policymaking. But we are where we are."

Under the Budget Control Act of 2011 -- which birthed sequestration -- the Pentagon is required to trim $37 billion from this year’s budget, resulting so far in 11 forced days of furloughs for its civilian workforce. If the law stays in effect, the department will need to cut another $52 billion in fiscal year 2014.

The "20 percent across-the-top cut in our offices” would take place in the 2015-2019 budgets, he said.

In enacting the furloughs, Hagel has made sure that each of the services share in the pain. This new proposed cut is in that same vein -- if everyone is taking cuts, then the top officials will have to face cuts, too.

"That isn't going to fix the problem," he said. "But ... everyone's got to do their part."

Hagel, a former Republican senator, took office earlier this year just as sequestration kicked in. He has sounded the alarm over how these mandatory, across-the-board cuts will impact readiness, but he’s also agreed that the days of “blank-check warfighting” are over. Hagel also said that retirement benefits, healthcare and pay are also a target for cuts.

"That's not going to go untouched," he said. "You don't get the money in the overhead of the office of the secretary of the Defense Department. You need billions and billions of dollars."