BILL CRAWFORD: Pentagon held hostage as politicians bicker

Senators and representatives recklessly hold the Pentagon hostage as they fecklessly bicker about their adamant, uncompromising positions.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says “a very dark cloud of uncertainty” hangs over the Pentagon as Congress mulls over alternatives to the pending $52 billion in “sequester” cuts scheduled for 2014.

“Each of the services has curtailed activities,” Hagel said, “flying hours have been reduced, ships are not sailing and Army training has been halted.” Also, hazard pay for troops deployed to hot spots has been cut; about 650,000 of the

Pentagon’s civilian employees, including National Guard technicians, are being furloughed resulting in a 20 percent pay cut; and procurement has been cut, affecting a number of Mississippi companies.

“These kinds of gaps and shortages could lead to a force that is inadequately trained, ill-equipped, and unable to fulfill required missions” he said.

Exacerbating the problem is the manner in which the Pentagon has been forced to make cuts. The sequester forced $37 billion in cuts across the board for this fiscal year.

Hagel said the military was not prepared for these cuts.

He said it’s not ready for the $52 billion in additional sequester cuts scheduled for next fiscal year, which will force the Pentagon to pit military readiness spending against personnel spending.

Hagel wants to implement realistic cuts in a prudent manner over time to sustain military readiness. Meanwhile, Congress is playing politics with the Pentagon budget, blocking most of Hagel’s cost-saving proposals, including requests for smaller pay increases, higher health care fees, base closures, and elimination of unneeded weapons systems.

“Strengthening readiness will ultimately demand that we address unsustainable growth in personnel costs, which represent half of the department’s budget and crowds out vital spending on training and modernization,” Hagel said. “If trends continue, we could ultimately be left with a much smaller force that is well-compensated but poorly trained and equipped. That would be unacceptable.”

If Congress doesn’t undo the $52 billion sequester hit for next year, Hagel said the Pentagon will have to move from civilian personnel furloughs to “involuntary reduction-in-force layoffs.”

(The Defense appropriation bill that just passed the House does not undo the sequester cuts. That will require a new budget act.)

“I hope that our leaders in Washington will eventually come to some policy resolution, a resolution that stops sequestration,” he said.

There is little to indicate his hopes will be met. While a handful of Republican and Democratic Senators continue to discuss a grand bargain that would undo the sequester, House Republicans have no intention of compromising.

“It doesn’t matter – we’re not going to do what they want to do,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan told Politico.com.

If military readiness in this hostile world doesn’t matter, what does? Just uncompromising politics?

BILL CRAWFORD (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.