With deep defense cuts about to hit, lawmakers and military leaders are struggling to find ways to dull the fiscal pain of sequestration's March 1 arrival.
Senior Pentagon leaders urged lawmakers on Tuesday to lift the current budgetary restrictions on the services that threaten to waste billions of defense dollars because of the inability to issue multi-year contracts.
Testifying before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, the service chiefs agreed that the current continuing budget resolution denies them the flexibility they need to make key financial decisions that could lessen the impacts of sequestration.
Beginning March 1, the Pentagon must cut $46 billion in defense spending this fiscal year – reductions that stand to affect every service, resulting in furloughs for about 800,000 DoD civilians, cutbacks in training and readiness, and delays in the acquisition and fielding of key equipment.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos told lawmakers that the restrictions under the continuing resolution, or CR, prevent him from launching any new starts to programs, which include signing money-saving, multi-year contracts.
Amos pointed out that the Marines could save $1 billion if he was able to sign a multi-year contract on the V-22 Osprey.
Amos also said the CR is preventing him from using $730 million in military construction money.
"If we stay with the continuing resolution, and I can't execute those contracts, that money goes away," he said. "I have no expectation that in FY 2014, I'm going to find another $730 million."
In addition to declining readiness levels, Amos said the current financial situation will severely limit the Marine Corps ability to maintain a forward-deployed presence around the world.
This time next year, Amos said he most likely will have to cancel the planned deployments of two Marine Expeditionary Units, that's a total of six ships and 5,000 Marines and sailors.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno also voiced frustration with the CR's restrictions.
The service could avoid $810 million with a pending fiscal 2013–2017 contract for CH-47s, a deal that Odierno cannot authorize under the rules of the CR.
House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ken., said he is trying to amend the CR with the defense appropriations and military constructions/veterans bills the House passed in December.
"We want to try to substitute those two bills into the CR for the balance of the year which would give you a lot more flexibility than you now have," he said.
"It is not within this committee's power to solve sequestration at this time; it is within our jurisdiction to try and help loosen the chains and allow the Department [of Defense] some flexibility in order to do its best with what it has."
Lifting restrictions on the CR is only a small part of the problem though. The Army is planning on cutting about 100,000 additional personnel if plans for sequestration do not change.
The Army is already scheduled to reduce its active force from 570,000 to 490,000 by 2017. With the CR and sequestration, Odierno said he would have to cut another "40,000 to 60,000 from the active force, 20,000 to 30,000 from the National Guard and somewhere between 15,000 to 25,000 from the Army Reserve."
All the services are planning to furlough hundreds of thousands of their civilian workforces for up to 22 days.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said his service plans to furlough up to 180,000 civilians.
"What that means to me is 31.5 million man hours of lost work in specialized skills and expertise for the remainder of this fiscal year, not to mention the personal impact on those individuals and their families."