DOD to use existing review as guideline for budget cuts

The Defense Department's hunt for savings now takes on increasing importance with the recent debt-ceiling agreement.

The Defense Department will use an already underway comprehensive review to help develop guidelines for cutting defense spending, and it could end up determining what programs face shutdown as potentially trillions are cut from the DOD budget, according to top officials.

“We have the opportunity to make [budget] decisions based on sound strategy and policy and with the best advice we can get from our service chiefs and secretaries on how to proceed with building a stronger service now and in the future,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Aug. 4 in his first Pentagon press conference.

The comprehensive review was rolled out in April under then Defense Secretary Robert Gates in response to orders from President Barack Obama to cut defense spending by $400 billion and in tandem with efforts to identify and implement efficiencies throughout the department. The hunt for savings now takes on increasing importance as the recent debt-ceiling agreement calls for even further reductions to defense spending.

“We are easing pressure by finding efficiencies where we can. We believe the terms of the [debt] deal are fair with regard to future cuts. We are already hard at work within the comprehensive review process to find requisite savings,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The results of the review could come by the end of the summer, but DOD is already stepping up budget discussions, Panetta said.

“We’re not sitting in our offices doing nothing at this point. ... We are having numerous discussions to talk about all areas that need to be considered. We’re waiting for the review, but that’s not stopping us from sitting down for discussions,” he said.

According to Mullen, the comprehensive review is building a base for responsible budget cuts, and that could include reducing force size and shutting down major programs.

“Over the past couple years we have focused heavily on the efficiencies aspect, and that continues to be the case with the review going on right now. ... It’s an iterative process to look at overhead. We fully recognize that at some level ... force structure comes into play very dramatically. Programs that can’t meet schedule or cost requirements are very much in jeopardy and will be very much under scrutiny as we go forward,” Mullen said.

Still, both Panetta and Mullen warned of grievous consequences that would result from an automatic sequestration scheduled to take effect if a bipartisan congressional committee, yet to be selected, cannot identify further budget cuts that satisfy spending goals.

The terms of the debt-ceiling agreement calls for half of federal budget cuts to come from defense spending. Panetta and Mullen said that current goals are reachable, but that cuts enacted by sequestration would be disastrous for the military and for national security.

“DOD may represent 50 percent of the discretionary budget in this country, but there is nothing discretionary about what we do every day for citizens around the world. The U.S. military remains a lynchpin to defending national interests. Loosening that lynchpin ... puts at grave risk the missions we are already assigned and the missions we will be assigned in the future,” Mullen said. “If cuts were to double ... we have looked into that abyss and we know that it’s very dangerous for this country.”

Panetta called the sequestration possibility a “doomsday mechanism” and urged Congress to protect national security by ensuring it doesn’t take effect.

“If it did happen, it would result in a further round of very dangerous cuts across the board that would do real damage to our security, troops and their families and the military’s ability to protect the country. It is an outcome that would be completely unacceptable,” Panetta said. “We do not have to choose between fiscal responsibility and national security.”

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