Navy Official: No Planning for Sequestration Until There Is No Other Choice
Federal agencies were informed this week by the Office of Management and Budget that they should begin planning foracross-the-board spending cuts that would take effect Jan. 2 unless Congress acts to cancel them.
For the Department of the Navy, the prospect of yet another sweeping rewrite of the service’s budget is discouraging at best, said Navy Undersecretary Robert Work.
Work said he and his staff are “keeping our fingers crossed that we don’t go off the fiscal cliff” and Congress finds a way to avert the sequester cuts, which would slice 9.2 percent from every program except military personnel.
Navy budget planners are just plain exhausted after four years of constant budget drills, he said. There will be no “planning for sequestration” until the spending cuts become the law of the land, Work said Dec. 6 at a Government Executive Media Group forum in Arlington, Va.
“I can tell you right now: We will not start planning until we know it is necessary,” Work said with a hint of frustration.
It’s been a rough four years for military budget planners, Work noted. Countless hours were spent drafting budgets that, on a moment’s notice, required wholesale changes. This happened every year of President Obama’s first term, Work recounted.
During the first year of the administration, the Quadrennial Defense Review “sucked all the oxygen out of the room. … We were moving a hundred miles an hour, making some big program changes,” Work recalled. The following year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates launched a Pentagon-wide “efficiency drive” and each branch of the military was directed to reduce spending by $30 billion. Again, “that sucked all the oxygen out of the room, and people were going a hundred miles an hour.”
Last year brought the Budget Control Act, and the mandate for the Pentagon to remove $487 billion from future spending over the next decade. Once more, Work said, “that sucked all the oxygen out of the room, and people were going a hundred miles an hour.”
The Navy staff over the past four years has been “doing their absolute best they can to get every benefit out of each dollar,” Work said. “But planning drills just to do planning drills is not what any of us are interested in.”
That said, he added, as soon as the uncertainty clears and sequestration is enacted, “That is when we’ll go.”
Jamie Morin, undersecretary of the Air Force, offered another reason why it might not be wise to plan for sequestration. "Plans have a way of creating their own reality, even if they are just contingency plans," he said at the Dec. 6 forum.
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.