Official: DoD Not Planning for Sequester Cuts

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The Defense Department has made no plans about where or how to cut its civilian workforce in the event that automatic budget restrictions take effect early next year, a Pentagon official told Congress Thursday.

Frederick E. Vollrath, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness and force management, told a House Armed Services Committee panel the Defense Department currently plans to shrink the civilian workforce by 2 percent over the next five years.

But the projected reductions are based on the administration's plan to cut nearly $500 billion from Pentagon budgets over five years; they do not take into consideration an additional $500 billion in reduced budget growth under sequestration, the restrictions mandated last year by Congress that many lawmakers now oppose.

Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the subcommittee, said it was "baffling" that the Pentagon has not been planning against the possibility of sequestration kicking in on Jan. 2.

"If we had a budget that was coming in line with these kind of major cuts I would think that your office would have already run some kind of analysis, so it just don't hit us blindsided in January," Forbes said. "It baffles me that [you] have undergone no process at all to do the kind of analysis … before these cuts take place."

Forbes argued that any changes the Pentagon has to make once cuts come into play will impact areas of the budget beyond personnel, such as fuel costs and transportation.

Lawmakers called for the sequester last year as a way of forcing themselves to make necessary compromises to pass a 2013 budget. It has not worked so far.

Part of the problem is that the Pentagon has not developed the data to let it know exactly how and where to meet critical civilian personnel needs with any force reduction.

Brenda Farrell, director of Defense Capabilities and Management at the Government Accountability Office, told the panel that the Pentagon has historically been slow to analyze its civilian workforce, which now numbers more than 780,000 people.

It faced the same scenario in the 1990s when it was reducing the force, she said, with the result being gaps in areas of need.

GAO has been reviewing data from 2010 that the Pentagon provided, as well as some information developed since then.

But she said the information is not developed enough to make informed decisions on the mix of civilian personnel or the costs of trade-offs if and when cuts are made.

DoD, she said, "has not progressed at the rate we would like to see … This analysis is key to knowing what you need today and in the future."

Under repeated questioning by Forbes, Vollrath denied that anyone at the Pentagon had either told him to begin planning for sequestration-forced cuts or, adversely, told him not to plan for them.

Vollrath echoed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's hope that sequestration does not happen.

"We would rather have the flexibility to manage the force reduction," he said, rather than arbitrary, across-the-board cuts.

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