White House, Congress Face Looming Sequestration Threat
A year after industry groups such as the Aerospace Industries Association started warning about the threatened U.S. government budget reductions known as “sequestration,” the White House has offered specifics about what the impact would be for the Department of Defense (DoD) and other federal agencies.
Last month, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reported to Congress that sequestration would force a 9.4-percent reduction in defense discretionary funding and cut $54.7 billion from DoD’s budget in Fiscal Year 2013. On October 9, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee issued a report that estimates an additional 1.9-percent reduction in defense funding. “The required reduction to procurement accounts would slow plans to modernize the helicopter fleet, impair the fielding of electronic warfare capabilities, make it more difficult to avoid a carrier-based strike fighter shortfall, slow efforts to field new surveillance aircraft, and disrupt the schedule of military space launches,” according to the report.
The failure of a bipartisan congressional committee to reach agreement on reducing the spiraling federal deficit last November triggered the automatic spending cuts, as required by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Sequestration would take effect in January and reduce federal spending by $1.2 trillion over the next decade, split between defense and non-defense outlays. The conventional wisdom is that the Congress, currently in recess, will act to reverse sequestration. But that won’t happen until after the November 6 presidential election, and the legislative body remains badly divided.
Last month, instead of approving federal agency appropriations for Fiscal Year 2013, Congress passed a six-month continuing resolution (CR) that keeps the government funded until March 27. While the CR is a “stopgap” measure that will be succeeded by other legislation, it projects $520 billion in core defense spending for the fiscal year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This amount exceeds the $518 billion already approved by the full House in its defense appropriations bill in July, and the $511 billion endorsed by the Senate Appropriations Committee in August.
Consistent with those bills, the CR seeks to preserve some of the programs the Pentagon cancelled this year, which include the Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30. According to the CR, “[No] appropriation or funds made available or authority granted…for the Department of Defense shall be used to retire, divest, realign or transfer aircraft of the Air Force.”