Panetta Asks Congress to Undo Sequestration, Approve BRAC

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2012 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta today urged Con­gress to undo an auto­mat­ic $500 bil­lion cut to defense spend­ing due to go into effect next year, and made his case for two new rounds of mil­i­tary base realign­ments and clo­sures.

Panet­ta raised the issues as part of his pre­sen­ta­tion of the pro­posed fis­cal 2013 defense bud­get to the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. He was joined by Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Robert F. Hale, Defense Depart­ment comp­trol­ler and under­sec­re­tary of defense for finance. The pro­pos­al — a $525.4 bil­lion base bud­get plus $88.5 bil­lion for over­seas con­tin­gency oper­a­tions — includes reduc­tions toward $487 bil­lion in defense spend­ing cuts over 10 years man­dat­ed by the Bud­get Con­trol Act, which Con­gress passed last year. 

It does not, how­ev­er, account for more than $500 bil­lion in addi­tion­al cuts that will go into effect in Jan­u­ary if Con­gress does­n’t act to stop it. Those addi­tion­al cuts, known as “seques­tra­tion,” were writ­ten into the Bud­get Con­trol Act as auto­mat­ic, across-the-board cuts to the fed­er­al bud­get if mem­bers of a con­gres­sion­al “super com­mit­tee” could not agree on spend­ing cuts by a Novem­ber dead­line. They didn’t. 

Panet­ta said DOD lead­ers took seri­ous­ly their respon­si­bil­i­ty to plan for the $487 bil­lion in cuts in a way that does not hol­low out the mil­i­tary. Mil­i­tary and civil­ian DOD lead­ers are unit­ed in sup­port of the bud­get pro­pos­al that involved care­ful delib­er­a­tions based on strat­e­gy, he said. 

“We need your part­ner­ship to do this in a man­ner that pre­serves the strongest mil­i­tary in the world,” the sec­re­tary told the com­mit­tee. “This will be a test for all of us: whether reduc­ing the deficit is about talk or about action. 

“Let me be very clear,” he con­tin­ued. “When you take a half a tril­lion dol­lars out of the defense bud­get, it comes with risks.” 

Those risks include work­ing with a small­er force, depend­ing on new tech­nolo­gies, need­ing to mobi­lize quick­ly and tak­ing care of the all-vol­un­teer force, Panet­ta said. “There is very lit­tle mar­gin for error in this bud­get,” he added. 

Con­gress must do every­thing pos­si­ble to avoid seques­tra­tion, Panet­ta said, because it would amount to “a meat-ax approach” of cut­ting at least 8 per­cent more from each defense bud­get cat­e­go­ry. “And that, we are con­vinced, would hol­low out the force and inflict seri­ous dam­age to the nation­al defense,” he said. 

“It would be dev­as­tat­ing,” he added. “Anoth­er $500 bil­lion and I’d have to throw the strat­e­gy I just pre­sent­ed to you out the window.” 

Panet­ta said defense lead­ers would wel­come work­ing with Con­gress on a way to stop seques­tra­tion before it takes effect. 

“What­ev­er we can do on both sides to devel­op an approach that we detrig­ger seques­tra­tion, we’re cer­tain­ly will­ing to work on that,” he said. 

The sec­re­tary also not­ed that the admin­is­tra­tion will make a for­mal request next month that Con­gress cre­ate base realign­ment and clo­sure process­es for fis­cal 2013 and fis­cal 2015. Panet­ta acknowl­edged that realign­ments and clo­sures require sig­nif­i­cant upfront finan­cial costs, but said they are need­ed in the long term not just for cost-sav­ings, but also as part of rebal­anc­ing the force from a draw­down after a decade of war. 

As a for­mer Con­gress mem­ber from Mon­terey, Calif., Panet­ta said, he knows first­hand how hard it is for rep­re­sen­ta­tives to over­see base clo­sures in their dis­tricts. He served in the House in the ear­ly 1990s when Fort Ord was closed, he not­ed. The post along the Mon­terey coast, he added, rep­re­sent­ed 25 per­cent of the local economy. 

“As some­body who went through the BRAC process in my own dis­trict, I rec­og­nize how con­tro­ver­sial this process is for mem­bers and for con­stituen­cies,” Panet­ta said. “And yet, it is the only effec­tive way to achieve need­ed infra­struc­ture savings.” 

The most recent BRAC round, in 2005, result­ed in the depart­ment clos­ing 14 major mil­i­tary instal­la­tions and realign­ing near­ly a dozen oth­ers. Panet­ta agreed with some com­mit­tee mem­bers that the 2005 BRAC cost much more than expect­ed and has yet to real­ize the sav­ings that were planned. But, hav­ing been through three rounds of BRAC, he said, there are lessons learned for the next time. 

There are only so many areas in the defense bud­get to find cost sav­ings, the sec­re­tary told the House pan­el, and infra­struc­ture needs to be among them. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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