May 31, 2013

Pentagon could weather sequestration storm by shedding up to 263,000 civilian jobs, analysts say

The Department of Defense would best be able to weather long-term cuts from sequestration through massive layoffs of civilian workers, a group of think-tank analysts concluded during meetings held this week in Washington, D.C.

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments organized the budget review with its analysts joined by representatives from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, American Enterprise Institute and the Center for a New American Security. Each group was given the task of developing defense strategies that would help the Pentagon mitigate the impacts of long-term sequestration cuts.

Analysts were asked to develop strategies based on full sequestration - $522 billion over the next decade- or about half that amount over the same timeframe. All four groups said the Pentagon could adjust to sequestration cuts by cutting tens of thousands of civilian employees. The figures ranged from AEI's proposed reduction of 82,000 workers to CNA's 263,000 employee cut. The cuts, the analysts said, are necessary to meet budget requirements while shifting the focus to cyber warfare and efforts in the Pacific.

The cuts echo warnings Pentagon officials have given in recent months. Speaking to meeting of the Association of Government Accountants and the American Society of Military Comptrollers in April, Comptroller Robert Hale said involuntary separations might be part of the Pentagon's budget strategy in 2014. "We'll have to get smaller and we'll have to look at some areas where we can take some more risk, get rid of more overhead and make a lot of other tough decisions," he said.

BRAC and Army force reduction

Analysts agreed with the Pentagon that it had excess facilities and recommended the civilian cuts go hand-in-hand with a new round of base closures. That proposal has proved particularly unpopular with lawmakers, however. Analysts said BRAC would save the DOD anywhere from $5 billion to $30 billion over a decade.

The Army was the hardest hit branch during the budget analysis. All four teams agreed to cut Army end strength by more than 70,000 troops, with CSIS axing a high of 163,000 troops. The savings would go towards the Navy and the Air Force.

The Army Reserves took a hit, too, with analysts recommending cutting anywhere from 19,000 to 58,000 reservists. One group, CSIS, reversed that trend, recommending the reserves be boosted by more than 100,000 members to offset the cuts it recommends to the active force. The analyst agreed the Pentagon should shift resources to unmanned aircraft systems, space and cyber efforts and special operations forces.

The budget exercise comes as the Pentagon is working on a new Strategic Choices and Management Review. The review, led by Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is expected in the next couple of weeks. The review will look at the options facing the department given the current financial situation and its impacts over the next decade.