A marine stands guard outside the Pentagon in Washington.
The Pentagon has begun laying off many of its 46,000
temporary and contract employees and cutting maintenance on
ships and aircraft in an effort to slow spending due to fears
of new defense budget cuts, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton
Carter said he had asked the military services to produce
detailed plans by February 1 to say what they are doing to
reduce short-term spending before roughly $45 billion in new
cuts are due to go into effect on March 1.
He asked for detailed long-term planning by February 8 on how
the services will handle the $45 billion in across-the-board
cuts, which will go into effect on March 1 unless Congress
agrees on an alternative package of spending reductions.
The Pentagon currently is absorbing $487 billion in cuts to
projected defense spending over 10 years that were agreed in
the Budget Control Act of 2011. That law also required the
additional across-the-board cuts by January 1, 2013, unless
Congress agreed to an alternative.
Lawmakers failed to reach a new deal but did agree to
postpone the across-the-board cuts until March 1 to give
themselves more time. But March 1 is five months into the
fiscal year, giving the Pentagon less time to absorb them.
Defense officials had long resisted taking action in response
to the threat of a new round of automatic budget cuts, saying
they were put in place to try to force Congress to reach
alternative spending reductions.
But Carter said the debate surrounding U.S. financial issues
in late December had been "sobering," with little attention
paid to the effects of the new cuts on the Pentagon or its
mission. And the decision to postpone the cuts for another
two months also reduced the time the department would have to
"When we were marching up to January 1 we had more runway,
more time to absorb cuts if we had to absorb cuts," Carter
said. "Now we're running out of time and so for those two
reasons, our risk calculus has to change at this point and we
need to begin acting."
The Pentagon's budget mess has been further complicated by
the congressional failure to allocate funding for the
Pentagon's budget for the 2013 fiscal year, which began
October 1. The department is currently operating on a
continuing resolution that maintains funding at 2012 levels.
"The problem is that the money is in the wrong pots," Carter
told reporters. He said the Pentagon had planned to spend
considerably more for operations and maintenance in 2013 than
it did in 2012.
"We don't have enough money to operate the forces in the way
we thought we were going to," Carter said. "That's the
problem. And that's a more than $10 billion problem. And
we're running out of time to eat that $10 billion and that's
the reason that we need to act now."
To slow the rate of spending, the department has put a freeze
on civilian hiring, he said. Usually the department hires
1,000 to 2,000 civilians a week, about 46 percent of them
military veterans and 86 percent of them living and working
across the country, not in Washington.
The department's 46,000 temporary and contract employees are
"all now subject to release," Carter said, meaning they will
either be let go now or will not have their contracts
extended. The only exception would be if they are performing
jobs critical to the war or the department's basic mission.
The department also is cutting back on base and equipment
maintenance, which costs about $15 billion per year. He said
the Navy would cancel maintenance on 30 ships that had been
planned for the third and fourth quarters this year.
"They're not going to sign those contracts with the shipyards
that do that work," Carter said.
He said the Air Force would only enter into short-term
contracts for supplies.