Hagel: Sequester ‘Already Having a Disruptive Impact’

By Elizabeth Harrington | April 3, 2013 | 3:16pm EDT

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. (AP)

(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that the sequester budget “cuts,” which amount to 1.2 percent of 2013 spending, are “already having a disruptive and potentially damaging impact.”

In a speech delivered to the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., Hagel said the Pentagon was not prepared for the sequester, which started to take effect on Mar. 1.

The across-the-board “cuts” actually constitute a reduction in the increase of federal spending; more money overall will be spent in 2013 than in 2012.

“The Department of Defense has been preparing for this inevitable downturn in defense budgets and has taken significant steps to reduce spending and adapt to the new strategic environment,” Hagel said.  “Nevertheless, a combination of fiscal pressures and a gridlock political process has led to far more abrupt and deeper reductions than were planned or expected.”

“Now, DOD is grappling with the serious and immediate challenges of sequester, which is forcing us to take as much as a $41 billion cut in this current fiscal year,” he said.  “And if it continues, we’re reducing projected defense spending by another $500 billion over the next decade.”

“The sequester cut, because it falls heavily on operations and modernization accounts, is already having a disruptive and potentially damaging impact on the readiness of the force,” Hagel said.  “The Department has already made many cuts, including cuts to official travel and facilities maintenance; we’ve imposed hiring freezes and halted many important but non-essential activities.  However, we will have to do more.”

Hagel added that reductions of the “size we are looking at” will force the Pentagon to furlough civilian personnel.

After his remarks, an audience member pressed Hagel, who admitted that the furloughs could cause potential harm to morale, asking “Why are you furloughing?”

“I wish I didn’t have to answer that question,” Hagel said.  “I wish we had other options.”

“But the reality is, as I noted in my comments, we are dealing with a $41-billion shortfall that was not planned for,” he said.

Hagel said the furloughs could be up to 14 days.

Automatic across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester, took effect on March 1.  The reductions will total $44 billion in federal spending for 2013, according to the CBO.

The reductions are a result from the Budget Control Act of 2011, which mandated cuts in the case that a bipartisan group of lawmakers, known as the super committee, failed to find a minimum of $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.

Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, notes that federal spending will still increase under sequestration by $2.4 trillion over 10 years, as opposed to increasing by $2.54 trillion.

Defense spending will also increase to $5.4 trillion by 2021, even with the sequester.

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