GUAM – Even though the sequester trigger in the new debt ceiling law threatens to shrink the U.S. defense budget by nearly $1 trillion over ten years, that’s not what Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is planning for, according to his testimony this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“The [Department of Defense] has been undergoing a strategy-driven process to prepare to implement the more than $450 billion in savings that will be required over the next 10 years as a result of the debt ceiling agreement,” Mr. Panetta said. (Notably, that figure exceeds the first-phase savings actually required by the new law, which most experts interpret to be only $350 billion.)
Uncertainty over how Washington’s new fiscal austerity will impact the Pentagon’s strategy for national security continues to stall military expansion projects on Guam, including the $17.4 billion buildup meant to prepare the island to receive 8,600 U.S. Marines from Okinawa. Mr. Panetta did not talk specifics in his testimony, saying only “we are going to have to look at how we turn a corner,” and recognize that “we have less resources. That’s the challenge that we face as we confront this budget issue.”
While agreeing that the Pentagon should “[take] on its share of our country’s efforts to achieve fiscal discipline,” Mr. Panetta once again drew the line at sequestration, blasting the possibility of another in $500 to $600 billion in additional cuts that would be required should Congress fail to pass a plan by December to further reduce the nation’s debt.
“I know you share my concern about the process of sequester,” he told the Senators. “It is kind of a blind formula that makes cuts all across the board and guarantees that we will hollow out the force.”
“This mechanism would force defense cuts that in my view would do catastrophic damage to our military and its ability to protect the country,” he said.
Dismissing the $1 trillion reduction scenario, Mr. Panetta instead focused his testimony on how he would achieve 10-year savings of $450 billion, a level that he said would “require hard decisions” but would allow for a balance between “fiscal security” and national security.
The Pentagon’s review “is ongoing and no specific decisions have been made at this point,” he said, emphasizing that the cuts would be made strategically with an eye to maintaining America’s military dominance.
All areas would be scrutinized for savings, including by reducing overhead, improving efficiencies, encouraging competition, streamlining contracting procedures and reforming personnel costs, he said.
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Photo used in this article courtesy U.S. Department of Defense. Photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley.