WASHINGTON — A House Republican says looming budget cuts at the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) could cost 89,000 civilian employees their jobs.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on readiness, said July 26 at a hearing that the estimate is based on an 11.3 percent cut across all DoD accounts, except for military personnel, which he assumes would likely be exempted from cuts. The budget cuts would be required by sequestration, which are automatic cuts that would be triggered Jan. 2 if a long-term budget-cutting deal is not struck.
Time is running out before sequestration takes effect, and lawmakers are growing nervous that the Pentagon is not laying the groundwork for that unwelcome scenario.
Frederick Vollrath, acting U.S. assistant secretary of defense for readiness, told the subcommittee that the federal government would have to give employees at least 60 days’ notice before laying them off in a reduction-in-force, and before that must give Congress at least 45 days’ advance notice — a total of at least 105 days. For January’s sequestration, that would mean a deadline of roughly Sept. 18 — less than two months away.
Before that happens, however, Vollrath said the Pentagon must conduct an “intelligent,” “mission-based” review of the cuts required by sequestration to figure out exactly what jobs or activities it should cut. Under a best-case scenario, he said, it would take the Pentagon at least three or four months to conduct that review. But he added that no such review has begun.
When asked why, he said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has not asked for such a review.
Vollrath said Panetta is continuing to work with Congress “to address the effects of sequestration.”
“I don’t think anybody has been able to come to grips yet with the severity of what sequestration means,” Vollrath said.
He said he could not definitively answer where the $56.7 billion in automatic sequestration cuts to hit DoD might come from. Vollrath said DoD leaders had yet to make decisions on where the priorities lie.
Any cuts to the DoD operation and maintenance fund could mean cuts to staffing, fuel costs or training, he said.
Forbes asked Vollrath whether sequestration cuts would disproportionately fall on fuel, training and other accounts if the Pentagon could not lay the groundwork for a potential reduction in force in time.
“Potentially,” Vollrath said. “It is clearly, as you said, a zero-sum game.”
Forbes expressed surprise at the lack of preparation. He pointed to the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) testimony that said DoD’s cuts during the 1990s were not oriented toward reshaping the work force and left the department with “significant imbalances in terms of shape, skills and retirement eligibility.”
“It is the law,” Forbes said. “It’s coming. This is what’s baffling me: If we had a budget that was coming online with these kinds of major cuts, I would think that your office would already be doing some kind of analysis so they don’t just hit us blindsided in January. It baffles me that we have undergone no process at all to do the kind of analysis that [GAO] said is crucial for us to do before these cuts take place.”
Forbes said the Senate’s 2013 defense authorization bill — which the Senate Armed Services Committee passed in May — would likely cut about 39,000 civilian employees.
And he said his committee was recently told that DoD has extended its civilian staffing cap — which limits civilian employees to its fiscal 2010 levels — through fiscal 2018.