Hagel: Military readiness being damaged by federal budget cuts
Posted July 15, 2013
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Federal spending cuts projected to trim about $52 billion from the U.S. defense budget next fiscal year are already doing damage when it comes to the nation's military readiness, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told troops at Fort Bragg Monday.
"You all know that we have planes not flying, ships not sailing, soldiers not training," Hagel told about 200 uniformed soldiers and civilian workers during a town hall-style meeting on the military post. "This is forcing us to take deeper, steeper and more abrupt reductions than we've ever had to do."
As part of the automatic cuts, also known as sequestration, about 8,400 civilian employees at Fort Bragg – among 85 the 900,000 Department of Defense employees around the world – are being furloughed for up to 11 Fridays through Sept. 30, amounting to a 20 percent pay cut over the next three months.
"Furloughs were the last thing I wanted to do for obvious reasons," Hagel told Monday's crowd. "I know it's painful, but I could not take down that readiness line any further."
Hagel said the Defense Department hopes to avoid a second year of furloughs but that, if the cuts stay in effect, the department will have to consider further action to reduce personnel costs, including involuntary reductions in force.
Defense secretary Hagel visits Fort Bragg
"(Uncertainty) is the dark cloud that hangs over this institution," Hagel said. "No one knows what's going to happen in fiscal year 2014."
In a letter last week to leaders of the Senate Armed Services, Hagel said budget cuts will also reduce the size and technological superiority of the military, placing "at much greater risk the country's ability to meet our current national security requirements."
The letter was the strongest statement to date from Hagel pushing back against congressional resistance to alternative Pentagon proposals to save money.
The administration has called for another round of domestic base closings, elimination of several weapons systems, a speedier drawdown in the size of the Army and Marine Corps, and increased fees for health care.
Yet the House and Senate, in crafting their versions of a defense authorization bill, have soundly rejected the Pentagon plans.