LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel explained Monday the urgent need to cut any unnecessary costs -- to include headquarter staffs -- in order to salvage training and readiness, which is rapidly declining following the massive cuts to the defense budget.
Hagel has reduced the budget for his office by 20 percent. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will be doing the same. Hagel told the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Louisville, Ky., to also "expect each military service to make comparable reductions in their headquarters budgets."
"I expect these cuts to not only save us money, but also to result in organizations that are more effective and efficient as well as more agile and versatile," he said.
The defense secretary announced the headquarter cuts during a trip last week to visit bases on the East Coast to address troops and civilian workers as Defense Department civilians faced an 11-day furlough to save the Pentagon money.
Every dollar now spent on large staffs, headquarters and overhead, or facilities not needed, is a dollar not available for training and equipping troops, sustaining vital programs, and taking care of families, Hagel explained.
During a recent visit to Fort Bragg, N.C., Hagel said he found troops already short of training rounds. The Army has also curtailed other training areas, he said, while the Navy is keeping some ships in dock, not at sea.
To preserve military readiness even with the severe budget cuts, Hagel said he has given "clear guidance to the services ...that they should not retain more people, equipment, and infrastructure that they can support, that they can afford to keep trained and ready."
Hagel noted that readiness "does not have a vocal constituency" when it comes to the budget, most likely a reference to the powerful lobbying and corporate interests who weigh in regularly on the Hill to save major weapons programs.
"You can't buy back readiness" once it has been lost, he said. "You all have fought and put your lives on the line for this country. You did so with the expectation that you would be given the equipment, training, and support you needed to succeed. Many of you, especially those veterans of the Korean War, have seen the costs, measured in precious American lives that come with sending a hollow force into battle."
Given the new financial reality, Hagel said the DoD will have to set clear strategic priorities to implement the Defense Strategic Guidance spelled out by President Obama last year; this includes a larger naval presence in the Pacific, troop reductions in the Army and Marine Corps.
The Pentagon is currently implementing $37 billion in reductions for the current fiscal year. Another $52 billion in sequester cuts looms ahead next year, and so on until the sequester chops $500 billion from federal spending over a 10-year period.
And these are on top of $487 billion in reductions over the next decade as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, Hagel said.
"Sequestration is an irresponsible process and it is terribly damaging. I hope that our leaders in Washington will eventually come to some policy resolution, a resolution that stops sequestration," Hagel said.
Hagel also addressed the highly publicized issue of military sexual assault at the VFW national convention. He said he "made clear to DoD's senior leaders that the scourge of sexual assault in the military must be stamped out."
"It is a stain on the honor of millions of military men and women, and it is a threat to the discipline and cohesion of the force," he told the convention.
Hagel said he is meeting weekly with the Pentagon's senior leaders to personally review assault prevention and response efforts and to make sure the directives and programs that have been initiated are being carried out.