The Defense Department could be forced to cease recruiting, freeze promotions, and impose layoffs on civilians in a series of "draconian actions" to cut costs if the Congressional sequester process continues through Fiscal Year 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Wednesday.
In a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hagel projected that sequester would take $52 billion out of defense spending in FY 2014 – on top of $37 billion in FY 2013. The combined effects of the cuts would drastically reduce "the size, the readiness and the technological superiority of our military," in the Defense Secretary’s estimation.
"This outcome is unacceptable as it would limit the country's options in the event of a major new national emergency contingency," Hagel said in the letter to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Committee's chairman, and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking Republican. The two senators had asked for the Defense Department's preliminary estimates on the effects of another year of sequester.
In addition to the personnel cuts, "we would be forced to buy fewer ships, planes, ground vehicles, satellites and other weapons," Hagel said.
In his general outline of the sequester's impact for a second year, Hagel said DoD would seek to avoid another round of furloughs after the 11 days of furlough that were imposed this year. However, he warned that layoffs might become necessary for the civilian work force.
"DoD will have to consider involuntary reductions in force to reduce the civilian personnel costs," Hagel said.
If another $52 billion is cut from military spending, DoD could be forced into "an extremely severe package of military personnel actions including halting all accessions, ending all permanent change-of-station moves, stopping discretionary bonuses and freezing all promotions," Hagel said.
The sequester process, which went into effect automatically when Congress and the White House failed to reach a deficit reduction deal, calls for $1.1 trillion in federal spending cuts over 10 years – about half of the cuts from defense. The sequester cuts are coming on top of $487 billion in defense spending cuts that were already underway.
In the contingency planning, DoD would seek to protect vital Operations and Maintenance accounts but Hagel warned that sparing O&M could only be achieved "through reductions in funding for activities such as facilities maintenance, base operating funding and support to community events."
To avoid the drastics cuts, Hagel called on Congress to end sequester and support President Obama's proposed FY 2014 budget that includes measures to slow the growth in military pay, raise fees for health care programs for military retirees, and initiate another round of military base closings.
"If Congress does not approve these proposals, even more cuts in combat power, readiness and modernization would be needed," Hagel said in his letter.
Earlier, in a separate action, Pentagon officials held out the slim hope Wednesday that the number of furlough days for civilian personnel might be reduced.
"If there is a way to reduce the number of furlough days, we may take a look at it," said chief Pentagon spokesman George Little. "If we can find ways of shaving days off the [furlough] schedule, we will," Little said of the 11 days of furlough for most of the Defense Department's civilian work force through the end of October.
Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale was exploring ways in which funds might be shifted to lower the number of furlough days, but Hale's effort did not amount to a formal review, Little said.
Defense officials have estimated that the furloughs will save the Department about $1.8 billion as part of the overall effort to cut a total of $37 billion in defense spending in FY 2013 under the Congressional process called sequester.
Under former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, DoD initially was prepared to impose 22 days of furlough for civilians before Hagel cut the number to 14 and then 11.
In announcing his decision on 11, Hagel told a town hall meeting of Pentagon workers in May that he did everything he could to avoid imposing furloughs.
Hagel suggested then that there might be a possibility for another reduction in the number of furlough days but warned he couldn’t make any promises.
"I can’t promise that," Hagel told the crowd in May. "I'm not going to be cute with you at all. This is where we are."