DoD Behaving Like Just Another Special Interest On Sequestration

For an institution that professes to be apolitical, the Pentagon has in recent weeks conducted a political campaign to protect its budget worthy of any special interest. In fact, in some ways it is worse. The way the Department of Defense (DoD) in general, but particularly the uniformed services have handled this problem creates the appearance that they are politically-motivated and self-centered.

DoD spent virtually all of 2011 and 2012 pretending it was above the political fray. We were told repeatedly that the DoD was not planning for sequestration. When the super committee failed in its efforts to find the required $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions, the department was still silent. When defense industry executives warned of the need to send layoff notices to workers ahead of the November elections, the Pentagon first said nothing and then promised that it would pay for any additional personnel costs involved. When Congress tried to get information regarding the potential impacts of sequestration on military readiness, they were largely stonewalled.

Then, in January, with no resolution in sight and sequestration looking like it would happen, the department suddenly initiated a full court lobbying campaign warning of dire consequences if the cuts were to take place. Detailed charts and notes were rapidly produced by the Service Chiefs that described the horrific impacts of sequestration in detail. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified last week that if the nation wants the military to continue to undertake the current set of missions it cannot afford even one more dollar in cuts. This is a simple calculation, really a judgment, that General Dempsey could have provided six months ago. But he didn’t do it until now. Even more transparent, there are several official presentations, notably one by the Army, that detail the effects of sequestration not just on military forces, but on the fifty states in terms of lost revenues and, potentially, jobs.

Ironically, as much damage will be inflicted this year if the Pentagon is forced to adhere to the current Continuing Resolution (CR) which limits spending in FY2013 to FY2012 levels and prohibits most transfers between surplus and deficit accounts. Operations and maintenance accounts will be particularly hard-hit as a result of a year-long CR. Yet, there was very little said about the CR until just a few weeks ago. The impacts of the CR are being interwoven with those related to sequestration to make the damage appear even more severe.

In some respects the tales of woe are downright whiney. We are told that the Pentagon has instituted a hiring freeze in anticipation of sequestration and that some 800,000 civilian employees could face mandatory furloughs of up to 22 days. It is rough when any worker is suddenly confronted with what amounts to a pay cut. However, the defense industry has already been downsizing, freezing hiring and getting rid of excess infrastructure. Moreover, it stands to lose up to one million jobs as a result of sequestration. So what is the difference between DoD’s behavior and that of any other public sector union trying to fight budget cuts?

By staying silent so long, the Pentagon in general but particularly the military gives the appearance of providing cover for President Obama in his re-election campaign. When DoD suddenly starts an intensive and well-organized lobbying campaign, it appears to be just another special interest. Either way, the apparent politicization of the Armed Forces is very bad news for the future of the Republic.