Donley: There’s No Mitigating the Sequester

The Air Force leadership will issue guidance to its major commands this week on what “prudent measures” they must take now to prepare for the possibility of a defense-wide $45 billion sequestration taking effect on March 1, said Secretary Michael Donley. The guidance will help the majcoms “minimize the harmful effects” of cutting as much as 18 percent to 20 percent of the Defense Department’s Fiscal 2013 budget in the last two quarters of the fiscal year, he said during a Jan. 11 press briefing with Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. Measures that the Air Force could take to brace itself for the unprecedented short-notice spending cuts, he explained, include: a civilian hiring freeze; a freeze on real property maintenance and travel; postponing small-scale purchases such as furniture and replacement IT gear; and, as a last resort, diminished flying hours and aircraft maintenance. Following guidance that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued on Jan. 10, Donley said the services have been directed to pick cuts that are “adjustable and reversible,” meaning readiness would be affected first and long-term programs last. He said civilian pay is “40 percent of our operations and maintenance” line item and so would certainly be affected. He left open the possibility of civilian furloughs, although, “that’s not on the table at the present time.” Donley emphasized, “There is nothing we can do in the next two months or the next nine months—the remainder of this fiscal year—to mitigate the impact of sequestration.” There will be “hard choices,” he said, and the guidance is “simply adjusting the way we spend the dollars.” Donley said “we will steel ourselves” for the hardships ahead, if sequester takes effect; there’s no way to avoid some hollowing of the force, he said. (Donley-Welsh transcript) (See also Panetta-Dempsey transcript.)