Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

July 22, 2013

Pentagon chief can’t offer hope in budget cuts

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. — The audience gasped in surprise and gave a few low whistles as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered the news that furloughs, which have forced a 20 percent pay cut on most of the military’s civilian workforce, probably will continue next year, and it might get worse.

“Those are the facts of life,” Hagel told about 300 Defense Department employees, most of them middle-aged civilians, last week at an Air Force reception hall on a military base in Charleston.

Future layoffs also are possible for the department’s civilian workforce of more than 800,000 employees, Hagel said, if Congress fails to stem the cuts in the next budget year, which starts Oct. 1.

On the heels of the department’s first furlough day, and in three days of visits with members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, Hagel played the unenviable role of messenger to a frustrated and fearful workforce coping with the inevitability of a spending squeeze at the end of more than a decade of constant and costly war.

The fiscal crunch also lays bare the politically unpopular, if perhaps necessary, need to bring runaway military costs in line with most of the rest of the American public that has struggled economically for years.

“Everybody’s bracing for the impact,” Army Master Sgt. Trey Corrales said after Hagel spoke with soldiers during a quick stop at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Corrales’ wife, a military civilian employee, is among those furloughed, and they have cancelled their cable TV and started carpooling to work to save money.

“The effects of the economy have started to hit the military,” Corrales said. “It was late in coming to us.”

The furloughs have hit about 650,000 civilian employees but also have slowed health care and other services for the uniformed military, which has stopped some training missions and faces equipment shortages due to the budget shortfalls. Troops were told this month they will no longer receive extra pay for deployments to 18 former global hot spots no longer considered danger zones.

Troops already are facing force reductions, and the Army alone has announced plans to trim its ranks by 80,000 over the next five years.

Officials agree that the military has undergone cycles of expanding and shrinking of the force over generations. Hagel said this time is different, and worse, however, because of what he described as a “very dark cloud” of uncertainty hanging over the Pentagon as Congress considers whether to reverse $52 billion in spending cuts that are set to go into effect in 2014.

At the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla., Hagel told an estimated 100 civilians gathered in a bustling jet maintenance hangar that the military had not been prepared for the $37 billion in cuts that took effect this year, forcing the furloughs. While he said he was deeply sorry for the strain the crunch has put on families, he said he would not slash troops’ training or other readiness budgets any further to prevent huge gaps in national security.

“I’m sure you realize how disruptive the furlough is to our productivity. So I’m hoping that we’re not going to do it again next year,” Elizabeth Nealin, a research and engineering manager at the navy base’s fleet readiness center, told Hagel.

“Have you planned for a reduction in force?” Nealin asked bluntly.

Hagel said if the $52 billion cut remains in place, “there will be further cuts in personnel, make no mistake about that.”

“I don’t have any choice,” he said.

The spending cuts this year may feel more dramatic than in times past because of a vast growth in Defense Department personnel and equipment costs over the past decade, said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. But current spending levels are close to what they were in 2007, when the war in Iraq was at its peak.

“So we’re not even back to a pre-9/11 level,” he said.

Since 2000, the number of U.S. troops has grown by about 3 percent to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Harrison said. But the number of civilian Defense employees hired to support the troops has far surpassed that, growing by 14 percent in the same time.

Hagel said he is taking a hard look at where fat can be trimmed from the Pentagon and said the military has been “guilty of wasting a lot of money on a lot of things.” But he also said he “can’t lead this institution based on hope, based on I think, or based on maybe” — and predicted more dollar cuts ahead.

In Charleston, where the hopeful crowd quickly turned worried, Sandra Walker pointedly asked Hagel what might be in store for her job security, retirement benefits and security clearances if the shortfalls continue.

“I’ve taken a second job to compensate, because I have several children at home,” said Walker, who works in education and training at a medical clinic on base. “And if we are going to have future furloughs, will those things be taken into consideration for the future of our jobs?”

Sticking to his message, and stopping short of directly answering her question, Hagel offered little hope.

“There’s no good news,” he said.

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Dollar Tree-Family Do_Rich copy.jpg Dollar Tree buys Family Dollar

    The fight for penny pinchers is intensifying.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Mideast Israe_Rich copy.jpg Gaza war rages despite Hamas, Israel truce pledges

    Israel and Hamas launched new attacks Sunday in the raging Gaza war, despite going back and forth over proposals for a temporary halt to nearly three weeks of fighting ahead of a major Muslim holiday.
    The failure to reach even a brief humanitarian lull in the fighting illustrated the difficulties in securing a more permanent truce as the sides remain far apart on their terms.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP81072904918 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, July 29, the 210th day of 2014. There are 155 days left in the year.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP4507280123 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, July 28, 2014
    Today is Monday, July 28, the 209th day of 2014. There are 156 days left in the year. 
     

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tentative deal reached on VA reform

    The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have reached a tentative agreement on a plan to fix a veterans’ health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

    July 27, 2014

  • United States-Libya_Rich.jpg US evacuates embassy in Libya amid clashes

    The United States shuttered its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort as fighting intensified between rival militias. Secretary of State John Kerry said “free-wheeling militia violence” prompted the move.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP9607270692 copy.jpg Today in History for Sunday, July 27, 2014

    Today is Sunday, July 27, the 208th day of 2014. There are 157 days left in the year.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • No ticket for Shrek over loud musical, chief says

    A musical being performed in a New Hampshire park has drawn some noise complaints, but the deputy police chief says he’s “not giving Shrek a ticket.”

    July 26, 2014

  • Arizona Execution Dru_Rich copy.jpg Arizona’s McCain: Execution was torture

    U.S. Sen. John McCain says the execution of an Arizona inmate that lasted two hours was torture.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ukraine Plane_Rich copy.jpg US: Russia firing into Ukraine

    Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the crisis.
    Russia accused Washington of lying and charged Ukraine with firing across the border on a Russian village. It also toughened its economic measures against Ukraine by banning dairy imports.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Do you agree with the millage rate increases?

Yes. We need to maintain services
No. Services should have been cut.
     View Results