DoD Comptroller Bob Hale testifies to House Armed Services Committee on sequestration
WASHINGTON – The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) heard statements from Department of Defense (DoD) Comptroller Bob Hale, as he testified that sequestration will “result in a less-capable, less-modern, less ready force and risks creating a hollow military.” His testimony, joined with those of the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and Service Vice Chiefs of Staff, reinforced Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s position that sequestration’s effects on the U.S. military will be “devastating.”
In response to HASC chairman Republican Buck McKeon’s criticism of the DoD’s lack of planning, Hale responded that sequestration “really can’t be avoided or even substantially mitigated by planning alone. The reason is simple; sequestration was designed by law to be inflexible.” This assertion was supported by Hale’s description of the implementation parameters that the DoD and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have set forth should Congress not come to an alternative agreement by January 2 of next year. This description prescribed a $52.3 billion budget cut from the DoD’s FY2013, which amounts to 96 percent of total defense function cuts. Outside of Executive authority to exempt military personnel accounts, under sequestration “the administration cannot choose which programs to exempt or what percentages to apply” said Hale.
In order to mitigate the ramifications of the cuts, the DoD hopes that reprogramming authority will enable the reallocation of funds from lower priorities to higher ones. This reprogramming, however, has a transference threshold, and when combined with the approval time needed for the procedure from all congressional oversight committees, becomes very limiting on “wholesale revision” capability of the DoD, warned Hale. He continued that this fact is expected to prompt “disproportionately large cuts” in the base budgets of Operations and Management (O&M) accounts in order to protect war operating budgets, as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) are not exempt. The O&M accounts projected by Hale to be hit hardest are facilities maintenance, base operations, and administrative budgets to limit implications on readiness, though the Comptroller could not guarantee these effects on training readiness.
Other areas expected to feel the sequestration squeeze are civilian personnel funding, reducing capacity to repair damaged weapons, handle legal and financial ventures, and support mission-critical functions, continued Hale, though it would not affect existing contracts. However, the 9.4 percent investment account reduction in FY2013 would result in “adverse affects on the industrial base supporting DoD” for military construction, procurement, and Research and Development (R&D), and will eventuate fewer weapons and consequently higher unit prices, he said. Long term, Hale opined that in the next nine years, $490 billion dollars in cuts will double the Budget Control Act’s reduction requirements and those included in the present DoD long-term reduction plan, resulting in “fewer aircraft carriers, brigade combat teams, and fighters.”
In conclusion, Hale assured the HASC that the DoD is equally concerned with the possibility of sequestration not occurring, and “will continue normal operations unless sequestration is actually triggered.”