U.S. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, sent a letter to the White House Office of Budget and Management on Monday protesting the budgetary challenges created by the lack of a federal budget for 2014 and the looming threat of sequestration.
The letter to Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the OMB, urged the Obama Administration to put forth its budget request so Congress can prepare and pass a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would detail the Pentagon budget for the coming year.
The letter from the House Armed Services Committee chairman outlines the challenges of crafting a defense budget in light of the uncertainties caused by the lack of a government budget.
“Despite the uncertainty under which the military has been forced to operate, the one thing they have been able to count on – for the last 51 years – is that Congress will deliver a defense authorization bill,” wrote McKeon. “To unnecessarily delay Congressional consideration of the budget request is to gratuitously exacerbate this uncertainty for our troops and their families.”
In his letter, McKeon noted that the White House had issued repeated assurances from Zeints to the House Armed Services Committee that sequestration would not happen and that planning for it would only trigger some of the negative effects of sequestration.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little was blunter in his assessment of the problems that sequestration could trigger. “At this point, it’s a mess,” said Little, adding that the sequestration cuts to the military budget “could require us to substantially modify and scale back our new defense strategy.”
Sequestration was designed by the U.S. to help reduce the federal budget deficits. The cuts were originally supposed to go into effect on January 2, but the “fiscal cliff” deal reached by President Barack Obama and the Congress delayed implementing those cuts until March 1.
Should the sequestration cuts happen as outlined, the Pentagon would be hit with $500 billion in budgetary cuts over the next decade, with upward of $48 billion in cuts coming in the 2013 fiscal year, according to an MSNBC report. The Pentagon’s nearly 800,000 civilian employees would bear a large brunt of the cuts, most of whom would be placed on unpaid one month furloughs. Additionally, weapons programs would have to be renegotiated, affecting defense contractors and their suppliers.
Until the sequestration issue is resolved, defense contracts such as Lockheed Martin Corp. are in a state of limbo. “There will be an overhang on our industry that stifles investment in plant, equipment, people, and future research and development essential to the future health of our industry,” said Lockheed spokeswoman Jennifer Whitlow.
“The troops have serious questions about sequestration,” Little said. “This is not just a Washington issue. It’s a Camp Bastion issue. It’s an issue at Incirlik. It’s an issue at our bases in Asia. We need to think carefully about this.”
McKeon is hoping for guidance from the White House as to when a formal budget will be submitted, said Alissa McCurley, communications director for McKeon’s office.
“What the chairman is hoping to get is a clear and concise answer – not only from the Obama Administration, but the OMB, to [help Congress] decipher how we can move forward in crafting our budget,” she said. “We crafted an NDAA last year even without the help of the administration, and we’re going to try and do that again this year, as well.”