Air Force Makes Cuts to Help Mitigate Sequestration Threat
The guidance directs the commands to freeze civilian hiring, cancel nonessential travel and reduce base repair expenditures, said Jamie Morin, acting undersecretary of the Air Force, during a Jan. 15 speech at the Air Force Association in Arlington, Va.
"The actions we've taken so far only take small steps toward sequestration." The impact of sequestration would be much more serious, he said.
Sequestration would necessitate across-the-board cuts of about 10 percent to the service’s budget. "We had a two month delay of sequestration for which we're grateful, but that changed what was 12 months of sequestration ... into 10 months of sequestration,” Morin said. "Our time to react is getting smaller."
In a Jan. 7 memo, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said the service would face a 17 percent reduction in aircraft maintenance funding and cuts to training exercises if sequestration was allowed to happen in March. Morin reiterated that flight hours would also be reduced by 18 percent.
These areas would see bigger cuts because "there is just so much of the budget, particularly on the operations and maintenance side that can't be easily adjusted,” he said.
For example, the Air Force spends $18 billion of its $44 billion operations and maintenance funds on paying its civilian personnel.
"You could make some savings, and there are options that are being looked at there,” Morin said. “I already mentioned we're implementing a civilian hiring freeze. Those all generate some savings, but nothing on the scale of sequestration."
The possibility of sequestration is not the only fiscal complication in play. A continuing resolution to extend fiscal year 2012’s budget levels to 2013 also makes resource planning difficult. About a dozen programs have been impacted by the continuing resolution, Morin said.
"I think we've been doing a pretty good job of mitigating impacts to the major acquisition programs,” he said. “The CR strictures become a little less serious when the budgets are coming down, because you're not growing, you don't have that many programs that are new starts."
However, the resolution essentially halts military construction projects, which drives up costs and makes the process more inefficient.
If sequestration is taken out of play, Morin said the Air Force’s current budget allows it to meet requirements. "I personally believe that we will achieve significant improvements in our stewardship of taxpayer dollars if we can provide the institutions of the Department of the Defense a little bit more stability in terms of budget outcomes.”
However, the service will need to modernize its aircraft, space capabilities and munitions in order to keep the upper hand in future battles, Morin said.
"Both fighter and tanker aircraft fleets are enormously capable right now, but it won't be forever,” he said. "In the space world, there are clear modernization requirements out there. We are in the midst of fielding replacements in almost every capability area."
The Air Force also continues to see a need for Congress to enact a base realignment and closure (BRAC) process, Morin said. "The Air Force went into the 2005 BRAC round with significant excess infrastructure, and did not make any significant reductions in that round. Our force structure has come down significantly ... We continue to see a strong need to make progress there."
Photo Credit: Air Force