Secretary Mabus to Congress: Give Us the Top Line

By Sandra I. Erwin
The fiscal cliff stalemate could cost the Navy and Marine Corps $9.2 billion in fiscal year 2013.
Such steep cuts alone are enough to cause major disruption to the services’ day-to-day operations, said Navy Secretary Raymond E. Mabus Jr. But even more damaging to the Defense Department is the “mindless” nature of the cuts that could come next month if Congress fails to pass a budget and the automatic sequester goes into effect March 1, Mabus said.
“Every organization operates from time to time with a degree of fiscal uncertainty, but nothing approaches the unknowns that the Department of the Navy and the Defense Department face today,” Mabus said Jan. 17 at the Surface Navy Association’s annual convention in Arlington, Va.
“Nobody likes budget cuts,” Mabus said in a manner that it was clear he was directing his message at Capitol Hill. “But if the Department of Defense has to be a part of some grand bargain or deal or strategy, then give us the top line, and let us manage how the reductions are made,” he said. “Let us put dollars against strategy instead of simply cutting” everything across the board.
“Give us the chance to manage to whatever the final number is,” Mabus insisted.
The $9.2 billion bogey for the Department of the Navy was calculated by a combination of the sequester cuts ($4.6 billion) and the consequences of not having a full-year appropriation for fiscal year 2013. The Defense Department still is operating under a temporary “continuing resolution” measure that keeps the agency running at 2012 budget levels, and does not allow the Pentagon to start any new programs.
“Sequester gets the most attention, as it should,” said Mabus. “But of equal concern, which gets much less attention, is the CR,” he said. “We are operating under a 2012 budget. If that CR is extended for the rest of the fiscal year, that is another $4.6 billion hit to the Navy. … Both of these things pose big risks for the Department of the Navy.”
The pain already is being felt across the Navy. A Jan. 16 memorandum from Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, directs sweeping spending freezes and reductions.
“All executive agencies, including NAVSEA, are confronting significant uncertainty regarding the amount of money that will be available to us to execute for the remainder of FY13,” McCoy said.
“In order to slow the "burn rate" of expenditures, we must enact prudent, but stringent belt-tightening measures now,” he said. Measures include an immediate hiring freeze, any government sponsored conferences scheduled for January to March 2013 will be postponed to April or beyond, all non-mission essential travel and training will be cut back, and additional controls are being implemented on new contract obligations. Civilian furloughs are possible, but such decisions are not in the purview of the military services and would be made by the secretary of defense.
“Suffice it to say that I realize there is a lot of uncertainty associated with this,” McCoy added.
Mabus said he worries about potential long-lasting effects that the budget stalemate could have onshipbuilding programs. If reductions must be made, he said, “We want to make those cuts as reversible as possible [if the budget is passed and if sequestration is not triggered] to ensure we haven’t done irreparable damage to a program.”
Navy leaders also warned that budget cuts would erode the fleet at a time of growing deployment demands.In speeches this week at the Surface Navy Association conference, officials predicted a readiness downward spiral.
Mabus sought to strike a less pessimistic note, and insisted that the Navy and Marine Corps “are in good shape regardless of what happens.” But he acknowledged that the admirals have a point. “Mindless cuts have impact,” he said. To avert a situation where Navy ships would have to be moored, the service would need some flexibility to apportion the cuts. “If we can make choices, we might not have to choose readiness. Now, we don’t have a choice,” said Mabus.
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, there areno signs that military budget cuts are enough of a front burner concern to accelerate any budget deal. In fact some lawmakers are blaming defense leaders for not having provided Congress sufficient detail on the consequences of sequestration.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the incoming ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Jan. 17 to request that the Pentagon provide detailed information on the impact of sequestration. “Both Congress and the administration have a shared responsibility and, rather than simply blaming Congress as you did repeatedly in your press conference, it is my hope that you and the President will work with Congress to ensure that an agreement can be reached to spare our military from further devastating cuts.”
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, DOD Leadership, War Planning, Procurement

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