What exactly is Congress doing to undo defense sequestration?
Congress is attempting to avert mandatory budget cuts that some fear could seriously hamper the Defense Department's mission. But can members come together before it's too late?
Making good on earlier promises, members of Congress are using the 2013 defense bill to reverse the impending effects of sequestration, the “doomsday” scenario which was triggered in late 2011 amid budget-cut squabbling on Capitol Hill.
The National Defense Authorization Act currently being considered in the Senate includes orders for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to produce by Aug. 15 a detailed report examining the impact of sequestration on the Department of Defense, which could take effect Jan. 2, 2013. Sequestration would assess $492 billion in defense spending reductions between 2013 and 2021, in addition to $487 billion in cuts DOD is already implementing. The failure of a so-called "supercommittee" to agree on more targeted budget cuts triggered sequestration as a consequence.
“The leaders of [DOD] have consistently testified that automatic reductions would have a detrimental impact on the department’s ability to maintain readiness... Sequestration will also have a detrimental effect on the industrial base that supports [DOD],” language in the Senate’s NDAA conference report noted.
According to the conference notes, the mandated report must include sequestration’s potential impact military readiness, the ability to carry out the national military strategy and any changes to the most recent chairman’s risk assessment.
Additionally, the language demands an evaluation of how sequestration could affect industry and employment.
“The committee is also aware that automatically triggered cuts would disrupt programs, projects and activities across the military departments and components, potentially causing the termination or restructuring of hundreds of contracts,” according to the document. “Therefore, the report should include an estimate of the number and value of all contracts that will be terminated or re-scoped due to sequestration, including an estimate of the resulting costs.”
The bill goes on to demand the report include an estimate of the number of civilian, contract and uniformed personnel whose employment would be terminated due to sequestration.
Throughout the conference notes, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee decried the looming threat of sequestration, demanding Congress act to stop the process from taking effect in January.
“Pentagon leadership has repeatedly warned that these additional cuts, totaling almost half a trillion dollars over the next decade, would devastate the department’s ability to provide for the nation’s defense,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), SASC chairman, said in the notes. “Sequestration would undermine the readiness of the armed services, dramatically reduce our ability to project power and defend our interests, jeopardize the livelihood of civilian and uniformed personnel alike and increase risk to national security - not to mention the shattering impact on our fragile economy with the potential for hundreds of thousands of layoffs.”
On June 2 at the Shangri-La Dialog in Singapore, Panetta once again rejected sequestration, calling on Congress to nullify what he said has amounted to them putting a gun to their head, according to a DOD release.
“Sequester is not a real crisis, it’s an artificial crisis,” Panetta said.