Budget Armageddon: DoD Prepares for Congressional 'Meat Axe'

Defense Department's second-in-command instructs leadership to prepare for Congress' financial inaction.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter listens as President Barack Obama speaks at the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction symposium at the National Defense University in Washington, Dec. 3, 2012.
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Top Pentagon leadership has ordered the Department of Defense to prepare plans to cut staff and equipment maintenance in case Congress fails to pass a new budget, U.S. News has learned.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter sent a memo to the heads of all military departments on Thursday, outlining Congress' inaction that could "hinder our ability to maintain a ready force." He asked the leaders of subordinate commands to prepare plans in case Congress does not pass a FY13 budget for the military or if sequestration goes through.

Congress postponed the original Jan. 2 deadline for sequestration was pushed back to March 1 as part of last minute tax deals passed in December. The automatic cuts would slash the Defense Department's $676 billion budget by nearly 10 percent.

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But Carter's memo outlines plans for the Pentagon to weather the big cuts if they come, including freezing civilian hiring, firing temporary hires and canceling maintenance on ships and aircraft, according to the memo. The move stands in stark contrast to language from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last year, who said the military would not prepare for sequestration.

The Defense Department is currently operating on a continuing resolution from Congress, limiting spending to fiscal 2012 levels.

"Given the overall budgetary uncertainty faced by the Department, and in particular the immediate operational issues presented by the CR, it is prudent to take certain steps now in order to help avoid serious future problems," Carter wrote in the memo. "I therefore authorize all Defense Components to being implementing measures that will help mitigate our budget execution risks."

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Any actions must be reversible at a future date, he added, in case Congress passes a budget and successfully avoids sequestration.

The memo also includes instructions for budget planning if sequestration does take place. It prioritizes portions of the budget that should be fully protected, including Wounded Warrior programs, wartime operations and, "to the extent feasible," programs for the new defense strategy and family programs.

Panetta reiterated the dangers of sequestration at a briefing earlier on Thursday.

"We designed a strategy, we know what the elements of that strategy are, we built a budget based on that, and we achieved our savings by virtue of that strategy," he said. "As I've said repeatedly, if we face additional meat-axe cuts as a result of sequestration, it will seriously threaten our ability to implement that strategy."

Check out the full memo here.

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