National Security

Pentagon Begins Planning for Budget Cuts

By Thom Shanker

After months of refusing to plan for how the Pentagon budget could or should be trimmed further, senior Defense Department officials have begun examining in earnest how the military would respond to automatic spending reductions if a budget deal eludes President Obama and Congress past the end of the year.

Officially, senior Pentagon officials say their budget planning efforts, which began earlier this week, were set off by an order from the Office of Management and Budget.

But as the number of days in which to reach a deal dwindles, it seems clear that the government bureaucracy has surrendered to the practical impulse for prudent planning.

“Initial planning has begun on the ‘fiscal cliff,’ ” George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said Friday, using the Washington term of choice for the automatic, across-the-board cuts that would be ordered if there is no deal on taxes and spending.

The Pentagon could face reductions of $500 billion over the next 10 years, representing roughly 5 to 8 percent of its budget.

Even if there is a deal to avoid the automatic cuts, it is anticipated that the compromise package would impose additional budget cuts on the Pentagon. The Defense Department’s reluctance to begin planning sooner seemed to reflect a fear that the effort to identify potential reductions would be tantamount to an invitation for Congress to cut military spending even more.

In public comments earlier this week, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta opened another front in the public relations campaign to avoid the automatic cuts, called sequestration, by warning of the severe impact on the military and on veterans.

“These cuts are across the board under this meat-ax approach that was developed in the sequestration formula,” Mr. Panetta said. “And it is going to have a serious impact in terms of those coming home, the programs that serve them, the support system that we have — not only for them, but for their families.”

Any number of Pentagon programs could be vulnerable to cuts, from personnel to training to procurement. But officials note that even if no deal is reached, and automatic cuts are initiated, the Defense Department and military would have weeks or even months to work out the details.

Courtesy: The New York Times