Specter Of Sequestration Paralyzes Pentagon

The Department of Defense is facing the prospect of massive spending cuts beginning next January as a result of the Budget Control Act. The law mandates automatic cuts to military spending beyond the $490 billion already planned because a special congressional committee failed to identify $1.2 trillion in budget savings over the next ten years. Many observers think the automatic cuts, known as “sequestration,” will never occur because Congress and the White House will find some way of repealing or amending the law.

Well, guess again. Insiders say stealthy sequestration has already begun, because the services are dragging their feet on awarding new contracts in the expectation that the money may be needed to cover the automatic cuts. Even though the law says that sequestration doesn’t begin for another year, military budgeteers are looking ahead and trying to hoard money to cope with that eventuality. It’s almost as though the Pentagon has created its own de facto continuing resolution.

If this trend is allowed to continue, it won’t matter in the end how much money Congress appropriated for various activities in fiscal 2012, because the Pentagon won’t spend it. That’s kind of ironic given how legislators struggled to get an appropriation passed despite severe political polarization on Capitol Hill. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta needs to make sure the military is following legislative intent in disbursing appropriated funds, otherwise the joint force will suffer the consequences of sequestration whether it actually occurs or not.