Top Army leaders warned Monday that continued budget cuts will mean cutting family programs while taking a hard look at which work and which don't.
"In the near term we are looking to spend our dollars as wisely as possible," Army Secretary John McHugh told Military.com. "We want to be able to reconfigure our programs and make sure the ones we're funding are the ones that are the most valuable. So we're not looking at it as merely an exercise of reducing our budget but rather reprioritizing our programs."
The current 2013 Army budget calls for $1.1 billion for family programs, McHugh said. But that's a step down from previous funding levels of $1.3 billion in 2012. Those levels could continue to fall if Congress continues to cut overall defense spending.
"It's still a top priority and the money that were going to spend on families says it's a top priority, but it's not the amount of money that we once had," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said in a town hall forum at the annual Association of the United States Army Meeting and Exposition. "It's important for us to understand what we need to do as we go forward."
The Defense Department faces about $500 billion in automatic cuts known as sequestration through 2021. That's in addition to almost $500 billion in reductions already included in 2011 deficit-reduction legislation. The first installment totaled about $37 billion and began March 1 after lawmakers were unable to reach an alternative agreement on taxes and spending. The second installment totals about $52 billion and is set to take effect Jan. 1.
"If sequestration remains the law of the land as Congress has directed thus far, there are going to be more and more cuts," McHugh said.
Officials said Army family members can help control what programs get the axe by submitting comments at post-level town hall meetings and to their installation commanders.
"You have to understand there are some things that we aren't going to have anymore, and that's OK," Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler said. "But we really need to concentrate on the ones that are effective and efficient and provide the best opportunities for our families to grow and excel."
McHugh warned that without family input, program cuts could be arbitrary and hurtful to families.
"Don't let us do this in a vacuum in the Pentagon," he said. "We're going to have to change … and absent your input we'll make those decisions. But I am very confident that doing it by ourselves is not the way to go about it, and the quality of the product will not be what it should be if we have your guidance."