A recent Gallup poll shows more than half of Americans, 54 percent, say they are unsure of whether the Budget Sequester which began on March 1 has been a good or a bad thing for the United States. Those who have an opinion are twice as likely to say it has been a bad thing. I believe that most CSRA residents would stand on the side of those who say it is a bad thing, especially those who are living the impact of sequestration cuts at Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Energy (DOE) facilities.
Our nation is facing a very serious fiscal challenge, which requires making very difficult budgetary decisions. Without action, growing deficits and debt continue to erode our prosperity and leadership role in the world. The current method for tackling this problem by imposing automatic spending cuts, called sequestration, is neither an effective nor rational form of deficit reduction. Former DOD Chairman Mike Mullen called it ‘the single biggest threat to our national security.”
In 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act (BCA) raising the federal debt ceiling and pledging to cut deficits by at least $2.1 trillion between 2012 and 2021. Of that, cuts of $900 billion were included in the BCA, with half intended to come from Defense. Congress then created the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction to cut an additional $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending by Nov. 23, 2011. This 12-member ‘Super Committee’ failed to come to an agreement and thereby triggered sequestration cuts of an additional $600 billion to $800 billion from Defense accounts over the next 10 years. This ‘worse-case scenario’ was never expected to happen.
Now that it has become a reality, the grips of sequestration are beginning to be felt and the effects are already quite dramatic at all levels of government. Take, for example, the Federal Aviation Administration furloughs that affected some 15,000 air traffic controllers. Flight delays, both nationally and internationally, had an adverse impact on travel, and thus business and the economy. Although there was money in the FAA budget to prevent the furloughs, it lacked the flexibility without action by Congress to move it from other accounts. A Senate bill fixed this problem, yet other government agencies were not allowed to reprogram without congressional approval.
DOD should be worried, because the defense budget accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget but is taking 50 percent of the sequestration cuts.
The DOD Fiscal Year 2013 budget already cut $37 billion, and $52 billion is projected to come out in FY14. Granted, some things need trimming, but the fat is disappearing fast and if cuts continue for the next nine years, the impact on readiness will be devastating.
The chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Ray Odierno, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee stated: “We simply cannot take the readiness of our force for granted. If we do not have the resources to train and equip the force, our soldiers, our young men and women, are the ones who will pay the price, potentially with their lives…I’ve seen the consequences when they are sent unprepared.”
I recently attended a Warfighter Conference and spoke with key leaders about the impact of sequestration. The good news is that there is money for military pay and war operations. The bad news is that other accounts will now be subject to even greater cuts. Rest assured our nation currently has the best and most experienced combat force in the world, but it takes more than positive leadership to hold it together.
On Oct. 1 the nation starts Fiscal Year 2014 without a budget, again. Each year, Congress authorizes each department to spend a specific amount of money, and the president signs the bill into law. This money may not be spent, however, until it has been appropriated for a given purpose. This system requires Congress to pass separate spending bills every year to ensure the operation of the government. If Congress fails to pass such a bill, or the president fails to sign it into law, nonessential functions of government will cease, because they are no longer allowed by law to spend money. In order to prevent the interruption of government services, Congress will pass a continuing resolution. This authorizes government departments to fund their agencies at the current level until either the resolution expires or an appropriations bill is passed. Although meant to be a short-term measure to allow time for a broader budget agreement, our country desperately needs a long-term solution to end the draconian cuts put in place by sequestration.
The armed forces are confronted with a triple whammy in FY14: a continuing resolution, shortfalls in funding of overseas operations and sequestration cuts. All of the services are being forced to make dramatic cuts in personnel, readiness and modernization programs, hence putting our national security at risk. It is important to also note that these cuts affect programs in support of all military, including reserve components and families. Smaller is not necessarily better, especially when it comes to a looming ‘clash of wills’ in this global environment.
Who owns the problem? What is being done about it? Bob Woodward wrote in his recent book, The Price of Politics, that sequestration originated in the White House and was sold to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by budget director Jack Lew. Although the president is not accepting authorship for sequestration, he certainly needs to take ownership to solve it. Unfortunately, this has become a political football being tossed between the parties. Compromise is easy to say, but tough to make happen on the Hill. As Congress battles over party politics, Americans become the losers in this war.
(Tom Konitzer is a retired brigadier general, past president of the Army Aviation Association of America, AAAA Scholarship Foundation secretary, president of TJK Konsulting, Inc., and resides in Evans.)