Pentagon Waits Out Shutdown While Sequestration Looms

Stephanie Gaskell, Defense One
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Stephanie Gaskell, Defense One
Oct. 3, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel is trav­el­ing in Asia, far from the dys­func­tion of Wash­ing­ton where Con­gress has once again hi­jacked his abil­ity to plan his budget. First there was se­quest­ra­tion, now there’s a gov­ern­ment shut­down and, in a mat­ter of months, an­oth­er fight over se­quest­ra­tion and this year’s budget.

“The Pentagon … has no budget. We are still liv­ing un­der this dark cloud of un­cer­tainty not know­ing what’s go­ing to hap­pen. This re­flects on our mis­sions around the world. It re­flects our al­lies’ ques­tion­ing our com­mit­ments. It af­fects our plan­ning as we are in the pro­cess, as you know, of pre­par­ing a 2015 budget as we are pre­par­ing for fur­ther sig­ni­fic­ant cuts un­der the cur­rent law, Budget Con­trol Act 2011, which means $52 bil­lion in ad­di­tion­al cuts,” Hagel said dur­ing a stop in Seoul, South Korea.

Hagel has been talk­ing to Deputy Sec­ret­ary Ash Carter, Comp­troller Bob Hale and act­ing Gen­er­al Coun­sel Bob Taylor to find a way to mit­ig­ate the pain of the shut­down, namely how to ex­empt more ci­vil­ian work­ers from fur­loughs. He said na­tion­al se­cur­ity is not at risk, but “when you take that num­ber of ci­vil­ian em­ploy­ees out of the mix of every day plan­ning and work­ing — and they all work with these kinds of things — you’re go­ing to im­pact read­i­ness. You’re go­ing to im­pact a mis­sion. There’s no point in kid­ding about that.”

Pentagon lead­ers are strug­gling to match their stra­tegic goals — wind­ing down the war in Afgh­anistan, re­bal­an­cing to Asia while keep­ing an eye on the Middle East, be­com­ing a lean­er mil­it­ary — without know­ing what budget con­di­tions they’re op­er­at­ing un­der.

“It would be nice to say we do a strategy and then we de­rive a budget. And in good times, in nor­mal times, we’re a lot closer to that,” Hale said in a re­cent in­ter­view with De­fense One. “So I think it would be disin­genu­ous to say that we aren’t — there are budget-driv­en de­cisions that are hap­pen­ing right now. We are try­ing to keep in mind the strategy in every way that we can, but we have meet some of the leg­ally bind­ing budget tar­gets.”

Hagel, a former sen­at­or who joined Con­gress in 1997 just after the last gov­ern­ment shut­down, said he’s frus­trated by the grid­lock in Con­gress.

“I do worry,” he said, “about the es­sence of gov­ern­ing in a demo­cracy and that we’ve seemed to lose, and that is con­sensus and com­prom­ise. No demo­cracy can gov­ern it­self without con­sensus and com­prom­ise. It is im­possible. And we seem to have lost that. We have seemed to have lost our way in that be­ing an ob­ject­ive of gov­ern­ing.”

Re­prin­ted with per­mis­sion from De­fense One. The ori­gin­al story can be found here.

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