In anticipation of another looming fiscal cliff, Pentagon Chief Leon Panetta ordered the Defense Department to cut USD 52 billion in spending.
"(We) have no idea what the hell's going to happen," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said during a briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday. "All told, this uncertainty, if left unresolved by the Congress, will seriously harm our military readiness." The Pentagon says its long-term planning is hamstrung because Congress has not passed an appropriations bill for 2013, meaning spending is frozen at 2012 budget levels. At the same time, sequestration, which calls for more than USD 500 billion in cuts over 10 years and between USD 45 billion and USD 48 billion in 2013, is scheduled to begin in March.
The US could also hit its so-called debt ceiling, which could lead to a government shut down.
Currently, the military is focusing on freezing civilian hiring and cutting operating costs on bases, which could include anything from cutting the grass less often to moving, consolidating, or scaling back on certain operations and weapons development programs.
All of these events happening within a month is "a perfect storm of budget uncertainty," Panetta said. In preparation, the defense secretary has ordered the military services to come up with ways to meet the 2013 portion of sequestration cuts, which must be implemented between March and September.
"We have to now take measures to prepare ourselves for that eventuality," Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during the briefing.
Panetta, who is scheduled to retire in the coming months, has spoken against cutting the Pentagon beyond the USD 487 billion already removed from Pentagon coffers over a 10-year period in 2011. Panetta offered some of the sternest language on the matter this week.
"We have a vital mission to perform, one that the American people expect and that they are entitled to, which is to protect their safety and to protect our national security," he said. "Congress must be a partner in that mission. I'd love to be able to do this alone, but I can't." Earlier this month, Congress delayed the beginning of sequestration from January to March, in hopes lawmakers and President Barack Obama could strike a deal to lower the nation's debt. While Panetta said he has not given up hope that Congress will remedy these fiscal issues in that time frame, he is less confident than he was a year ago.
"My fear in talking to members of Congress is that this issue may now be in a very difficult place, in terms of their willingness to confront what needs to be done to de-trigger sequester," he said.