With President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) back in a stare-down and the deadline for a deal approaching rapidly, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) told the Pentagon to begin figuring out how it would meet the legislative requirement to start automatically cutting its accounts after January 2, 2013.
The Pentagon, and other federal agencies, until now were expressly forbidden by OMB from using any time to plan for sequestration. The administration had argued the time was too valuable to take away from regular budget planning, and watchdogs long sneered that conservatives demanding the Pentagon start sequester planning were only trying to force the government to look soft on national security. Conservatives on the Hill, on the other hand, complained OMB’s planning freeze was a political ploy to smoke out Republicans.
As it is, if you thought the Pentagon had been secretly readying plans to roll out when this day came, think again.
“This is initial planning to define the parameters of what may need to happen on January 2,” Pentagon press secretary George Little told the E-Ring. How's that for slow-rolling it? There were actual meetings in the building on Wednesday, he said, the first of their kind.
The planning will involve Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; the comptroller, Bob Hale; Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Frank Kendall; Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness Erin Conaton; as well as public affairs run by Little.
Little said his department will have to inform the more than 3 million DOD employees what to expect and when, from possible civilian furloughs to the impact on DoD schools at bases worldwide, childcare programs, job programs, or other areas. This week a public affairs “communications task force” is also starting to meet to sort out the work it faces.
For all the worry about automatic cuts across-the-board, the Pentagon has huge leeway to decide the order and timing of implementing those cuts. Already the department, including Hale, has stated that every program does not get whacked on January 2; rather, the cuts will be rolling. What cuts come first -- that’s what the meetings now underway must determine. A defense official said that Congress is letting the Pentagon determine the order of cuts.
For now, there is nothing the Pentagon is expected to turn in to the White House.
“Maybe something will be due to the White House, but not yet,” Little said.
DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett