With the federal government's fiscal year in its final quarter, the Department of Defense is the latest department to make its case against budget cuts. Through a series of forums, the Pentagon has expressed concern over how the DOD has been and will continue to be affected by the sequestration cuts.
It is nearly undisputed that Congress' attempt to repair the broken federal budget should entail at least some defense budget cuts; after a decade of war, many see it as only logical that appropriate adjustments be made to accommodate a shift in resources. Thus, rather than condemning cuts altogether, the Pentagon's message is seemingly more reasonable: cuts should be made rationally, thoughtfully and judiciously, for an ill-advised sequestration plan could jeopardize national security particularly in the event of crisis. Indeed, Army General Martin Dempsey testified before a Senate panel that budget cuts are jeopardizing the military's ability to respond to crisis, arguing that the armed forces "are already out of balance due to the magnitude and mechanism – not to mention the steep descent – of budget cuts."
To date, furloughs have forced a 20 percent pay cut on the civilian workforce – affecting 650,000 civilian defense employees – while slowing healthcare and other benefits for service members. Further, certain training programs have been stalled in the wake of potential equipment shortages, and service members were advised this month that they would not receive extra pay for deployments to certain areas once deemed danger zones.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addressed these issues earlier this month at Joint Base Charleston, cautioning upwards of 300 DOD employees that "the facts of life" are such that layoffs are possible if Congress does not stem sequestration cuts during the next budget year, beginning October 1. Hagel's audience, described as "frustrated and fearful", reportedly reacted with gasps and low whistles upon hearing that furloughs are not only expected to continue, but that they will likely worsen. Hagel described the atmosphere of collective uncertainty as a "very dark cloud" hanging over the Pentagon.
Many opponents of Hagel and Dempsey, however, deem the cuts necessary, citing a need to bring the military and its "runaway costs" up to speed with the remainder of the American public's longstanding economic struggle. In fact, when comparing civilians' economic hardships with the service members', the latter's have seemingly been delayed; Army Master Sgt. Trey Corrales admitted that his family had just begun to feel the effects of the nation's economic struggle, agreeing that it was "late in coming to [them]."
While Hagel has conceded that the military has been "guilty of wasting a lot of money on a lot of things", he vows with a hint of optimism to carefully evaluate where Pentagon fat can be trimmed. In response to tense criticism from both civilian and uniformed military employees seeking answers and reassurance, however, Hagel's answer remained bleak: "There's no good news."