Foreign and Defense Policy, Defense

Sequestration Transparency Act misses the mark

The administration’s Friday report pursuant to the Sequestration Transparency Act failed to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the Sequestration Transparency Act by submitting the late report to Congress without specifying how cuts would affect federal agencies at the program, project, and activity (PPA) level. Without more helpful guidance on how individual programs will be affected, Congress cannot fully calculate the consequences of sequestration to our national defense.

The report does, however, highlight how harmful sequestration will be across the entirety of the federal budget. Sequestration would also affect after-school programs, smaller class size efforts, and programs for children with disabilities. The number of FBI agents, customs and border patrol agents, correctional officers, and federal prosecutors would drop. The FAA would have reduced ability to manage air traffic control at the nation’s airports. The government’s ability to prevent foodborne illnesses would be curtailed and FEMA’s ability to respond to terrorist attacks or natural disasters would be undermined.

The effects on the military are also widespread. Given the administration’s exemption of the military personnel account from sequestration, the overwhelming majority of cuts fall upon two broad categories of the defense budget: Operations, training and maintenance (O&M), and modernization.

O&M pays for many day-to-day activities — everything from flying hours to fuel to the civilian workforce and health care. Reductions in this account at $27.32 billion are roughly half of the Pentagon’s sequestration cuts. This is particularly unhelpful because maintenance and training are already habitually underfunded. In fact, the report itself makes this point clear: “sequestration would result in a reduction in readiness of many non-deployed units.”  That would create an outcome the Joint Chiefs have said is a non-starter: A return to the hollow force. While the administration has indicated that it will try and avoid additional military endstrength reductions, this may be impossible. Regardless, the resulting force would be undertrained, underfunded, and underequipped for the worldwide demands placed on them daily.

Sequestration will equally damage the military’s already-anemic modernization plans. These accounts would fall by $22.79 billion, roughly 41% of DoD’s total cuts. Because cuts are calculated by percentage, the largest programs will suffer the largest reductions. Air Force and Navy aircraft procurement will both be hit by over $2 billion, and the Navy will lose an additional $2 billion from shipbuilding, for example.

Although the report does not break down cuts at the project level, numbers alone dictate that large, capital-intensive programs like the F-35, aircraft carriers, and nuclear submarines will experience major setbacks under sequestration that will cost the taxpayer much more in the long run. The great irony of sequestration — an effort designed to help reduce America’s debt load — is that it is clear it would not “save” much money, if any, to implement.

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