Pay and Force Structure Could Suffer Under Budget Cuts: Pentagon

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel answers a question on the Strategic Choices Management Review during a news conference at the Pentagon, July 31, 2013. Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., right, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Hagel for the briefing

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Washington, DC – The Pentagon will reduce funding for major headquarters by a fifth, will seek to trim allowances and limit pay raises, and could cut troop numbers and new weapons programs as it plans for what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today called “unprecedented budget uncertainty.”

Hagel and Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed Pentagon reporters today on the Strategic Choices in Management Review Hagel directed in March. The secretary said the review clarified “the major options and difficult choices ahead.”

He noted all future defense cuts will add to the $487 billion reduction in defense spending over the next decade required by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which DOD is currently implementing.

“If sequester-level cuts persist, DOD would experience nearly $1 trillion in defense spending reductions over the next 10 years,” Hagel said. “To help DOD balance strategic ends, ways and means under these budget scenarios, the Strategic Choices and Management Review scrutinized every aspect of DOD’s budget, including contingency planning, business practices, force structure, pay and benefits, acquisition practices, and modernization portfolios. Everything was on the table.”

Hagel explained the review considered three possible budget scenarios:
— President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget, which includes what he called “a carefully calibrated and largely back-loaded $150 billion reduction in defense spending over the next 10 years;”
— The Budget Control Act’s sequester-level caps, which would cut another $52 billion from defense in fiscal year 2014, with $500 billion in reductions for the department over the next 10 years; and
— An “in-between” scenario that would reduce defense spending by about $250 billion over the next 10 years, but would be largely back-loaded.

The secretary said senior leaders and staff members from his office, the Joint Staff, the services, the combatant commands and defense field activities all participated in the review, and all options were examined with four priorities in mind:
— Prioritizing DOD’s missions and capabilities around its core responsibility of defending the nation;
— Maximizing the military’s combat power by looking to reduce every other category of spending first;
— Preserving and strengthening military readiness; and,
— Honoring the service and sacrifice of DOD’s people.
“Those principles, and a rigorous review process, resulted in packages of options that included management efficiencies and overhead reductions, compensation reforms, and changes to force structure and modernization plans,” Hagel said.

The secretary noted that he and his immediate predecessors, Leon E. Panetta and Robert M. Gates, all have created and implemented plans to cut headquarters structures.

“Not every proposal has generated the savings we expected or gained the support of Congress,” he acknowledged, “most notably, our request for a base realignment and closure round.”

New efficiencies pointed up during the review, he said, “should be pursued regardless of fiscal circumstances.” These include:
— Reducing the department’s major headquarters budgets by 20 percent, beginning with the office of the defense secretary, the Joint Staff, service headquarters and secretariats, combatant commands, and defense agencies and field activities. “Although the 20 percent cut applies to budget dollars, organizations will strive for a goal of 20 percent reductions in government civilians and military personnel billets on headquarters staffs,” Hagel said.
— Reducing the number of direct reports to the secretary by further consolidating functions within OSD and eliminating positions; and
— Reducing intelligence analysis and production at combatant command intelligence and operations centers, which also will foster closer integration and reduce duplication across the defense enterprise.

If department funding is subject to sequester-level caps over the long term, he said, other potential cuts could mean consolidation of regional combatant commands, defense agency mission cuts and further information technology consolidation.

“Even over the course of a decade, the cumulative savings of the most aggressive efficiency options identified by the review are $60 billion,” Hagel noted. “That is a very small fraction of what is needed under sequester-level cuts. We will have to look elsewhere for savings.”

Pay and benefits for service members and defense civilians consume roughly half of the DOD budget, Hagel said. “If left unchecked, pay and benefits will continue to eat into readiness and modernization,” he added. “That could result in a far less capable force that is well-compensated, but poorly trained and poorly equipped.”

People are the department’s most important asset, Hagel said. “No one in uniform is overpaid for what they do for this country,” he told reporters. Still, he added, “Overall personnel costs have risen dramatically – some 40 percent above inflation since 2001. The department cannot afford to sustain this growth.”

As with base realignments and closures, Congress has opposed some DOD proposals for cutting compensation costs, Hagel said. He said the department will need Congress’ partnership to implement proposed measures that include:
— Changing military health care for retirees to increase use of private-sector insurance when available;
— Changing how the basic allowance for housing is calculated so individuals are asked to pay a little more of their housing costs;
— Reducing the overseas cost-of-living adjustment; and
— Continuing to limit military and civilian pay raises.

“I want to be clear that we are not announcing any compensation changes today,” Hagel said. He added he has asked Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff –- who missed today’s news conference because he and his wife, Deanie, are welcoming their eighth grandchild –- to lead an effort to identify $50 billion in compensation savings over 10 years, “and still enable us to recruit and retain a high-quality force.”

Savings in headquarters staff and compensation still will leave DOD $350 billion to $400 billion short of the $500 billion in cuts sequestration requires over the next 10 years, he noted.

“The review had to take a hard look at changes to our force structure and modernization plans,” the secretary said.

With the goal of best supporting the president’s defense strategy emphasizing strategic deterrence, homeland defense and the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, Hagel said, “the review concluded we should not take reductions proportionally across the military services.” The review identified excess capacity to meet current and anticipated future defense needs, he said.

“In particular, the analysis concluded that we can strategically reduce the size of our ground and tactical air forces – even beyond the current drawdown,” Hagel said.

While no decisions have been made and much more analysis is needed, he said, with one war over and another ending –- taking with them the need for large-scale counterinsurgency operations – “it makes sense to take another look at the Army’s force structure, which is currently planned to reach 490,000 in the active component and 555,000 in the reserves.”

The review found, he said, “that we could still execute the priority missions determined by our defense strategy while reducing Army end-strength to between 420,000 and 450,000 in the active component and between 490,000 and 530,000 in the Army reserves. Similarly, the Air Force could reduce tactical aircraft squadrons – potentially as many as five – and cut the size of the C-130 fleet with minimal risk.”

Hagel said he and Dempsey will work closely in the coming months with each of the service chiefs “to reach agreement on the proper size of our armed forces, taking into account real-world needs and requirements.”

Hagel said the department can still defend the country and fulfill its global responsibilities with the changes to force structure, compensation and staffing outlined above, while meeting the $150 billion in savings required by the president’s budget proposal. Significant reductions beyond that level, he warned, “would require many more dramatic cuts to force structure.”

“The review showed that the ‘in-between’ budget scenario we evaluated would ‘bend’ our defense strategy in important ways, and sequester-level cuts would ‘break’ some parts of the strategy no matter how the cuts were made,” he said. “Under sequester-level cuts, our military options and flexibility will be severely constrained.”

The review examined two possible strategic approaches to reducing force structure and modernization in planning for sequester-level cuts, he said: one emphasizing a larger force size, and the other placing a premium on maintaining a technological edge.

“In the first approach, we would trade away size for high-end capability,” Hagel said. This would shrink the active Army to between 380,000 and 450,000 troops, reduce the Navy’s carrier strike groups from 11 to eight or nine, reduce the Marine Corps from 182,000 to between 150,000 and 175,000, and retire older Air Force bombers, he added.

“We would protect investments to counter anti-access and area-denial threats, such as the long range strike family of systems, submarine cruise-missile upgrades, and the joint strike fighter,” the secretary noted. “And we would continue to make cyber capabilities and special operations forces a high priority.”

That force that would be technologically dominant, but much smaller and able to go fewer places and do fewer things, he said. The second approach, which would trade high-end capability for size, would sustain regional power projection and presence capacity by making more limited cuts to ground forces, ships and aircraft, Hagel said, but would cancel or curtail many modernization programs, slow cyber growth and reduce special operations forces.

“Cuts on this scale would, in effect, be a decade-long modernization holiday,” the secretary said. “The military could find its equipment and weapons systems – many of which are already near the end of their service lives – less effective against more technologically advanced adversaries. We also have to consider how massive cuts to procurement, and research and development funding would impact … America’s private-sector industrial base.”

In the coming months, Hagel said, “DOD – and ultimately the president – will decide on a strategic course that best preserves our ability to defend our national security interests under this very daunting budget scenario.”

The balance leaders strike now among capability, capacity and readiness will determine the composition and size of the force for years to come, Hagel noted.

“We could, in the end, make decisions that result in a very different force from the options I’ve described today,” he said. “Our goal is to be able to give the president informed recommendations, not to prejudge outcomes. Regardless, the decision-making process will benefit from the insights this review provided.”

Hagel emphasized a point defense leaders have stressed throughout funding discussions with Congress: defense spending cannot be cut both quickly and strategically.

“The reality is that cuts to overhead, compensation and forces generate savings slowly,” he explained. “With dramatic reductions in each area, we do reach sequester-level savings – but only towards the end of a 10-year timeframe. Every scenario the review examined showed shortfalls in the early years of [$30 billion] to $35 billion.”

Those shortfalls will be even larger, he said, if Congress refuses to allow the compensation changes and infrastructure cuts proposed in the fiscal 2014 defense request.

“Opposition to these proposals must be engaged and overcome, or we will be forced to take even more draconian steps in the future,” he said.

Hagel noted DOD halted all flying for some Air Force squadrons, canceled ship deployments, ended Army Combat Training Center rotations for brigades not deploying to Afghanistan, and imposed furloughs for 650,000 civilian employees.

“In fiscal year 2014, this damage will continue if sequestration persists. … Congress will need to help us manage these deep and abrupt reductions responsibly and efficiently,” he said.

“The bold management reforms, compensation changes and force structure reductions identified by the Strategic Choices and Management Review can help reduce the damage that would be caused by the persistence of sequestration in fiscal year 2014, but they won’t come close to avoiding it altogether,” the secretary added.

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