The U.S. Congress has passed legislation that delays the threatened automatic cuts in federal government spending by two months until March 1, sparing for now a $55 billion reduction in the Department of Defense (DOD) budget for the current fiscal year. That budget currently stands at $552 billion, after the Congress authorized the Fiscal Year 2013 spending bill late last month. The President signed the defense authorization bill on January 3.
The Senate and the House voted within 21 hours of each other on January 1 to approve hastily arranged legislation that averted the “fiscal cliff,” the term coined for simultaneous tax increases and sequestration budget cuts set to begin in the new year. Had sequestration taken effect on January 2 as scheduled, the DOD was prepared to send furlough notices to its 800,000 civilian employees, some of whom would be laid off. “Had Congress not acted, the Department of Defense along with other federal agencies would have been forced to begin taking dramatic steps that would have severely impacted our civilian personnel and disrupted our mission,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. “Congress has prevented the worst possible outcome by delaying sequestration for two months. Unfortunately, the cloud of sequestration remains.”
In a memo sent to employees last month, Panetta said sequestration would not change military personnel “end strength” but would reduce overall funding for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Notably, the Fiscal Year 2013 authorization bill that Congress approved would reverse the Pentagon’s decision, announced early last year, to cancel the Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 program and instead prolong the service of manned U-2 surveillance aircraft. The legislation directs the secretary of the Air Force to “maintain the operational capability” of the Block 30 Global Hawks either in the service’s possession or planned for delivery through December 2014. At the time of the program’s cancellation, 18 Block 30 aircraft had been contracted, of which 14 were delivered. The authorization legislation would also stop the retirement of 26 C-5A airlifters until the DOD completes a study of air mobility requirements.