Whether or not one believes that the sequestration is good for the country, I suspect that many people don’t get much past the political arguments to see that it has real impacts.
One area that is feeling the full force of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that brought us the current budget sequestration, or across the board spending cuts, is the United States Armed Forces. This was brought home once again this week with the announcement that the USS Miami (SSN-775), a nuclear attack submarine, will be scrapped rather than repaired following an arson fire while in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery Maine. The reason given for this decision is, basically, the fact that there just is not enough money in the Navy’s budget to make the repairs. More accurately, if they spent the money to fix it, there would be insufficient funds available to do needed repairs to a significant number of other ships, many of which have already had their planned maintenance deferred past the normal limits because of the shortage of funds.
Additional damage to the military’s ability to adequately meet its mission requirements is exacerbated by a less understood budget trick used by Congress in many instances over the past few years. Since the Congress cannot agree on Authorization and Appropriations Bills (a budget) in a timely manner, or perhaps not at all in some cases, they pass continuing resolutions that keep spending levels at, or below, those of previous years. Additionally, the bills normally include very specific limitations and specified uses for the money that is appropriated. In other words, critics that say the military should know how to manage its finances better do not seem to take into account that Congress severely limits the leadership in the Pentagon (and other federal agencies for that matter) in their ability to move money from one area to another as needed. They cannot manage their money because in many cases, they are not allowed to do so.
Only when the pain to the individual representatives in our national legislature becomes too much, as happened in April 2013 when reduced manning in air traffic control towers was cut back, will Congress act. In this case they passed the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 that allowed the Federal Aviation Administration to move funds within the department to eliminate traffic controller furloughs, thus saving themselves from flight delays when trying to leave Washington’s National Airport. Recently, in some individual cases within the Department of Defense, Congress allowed exceptions to the “no exceptions” legislation, such as allowing the US Air Force to move some funds to begin training aircraft squadrons that would otherwise have been grounded indefinitely.
Outside of the issues that get the most headlines (civilian employee furloughs, cancelled fly-overs at football games) there is an insidious side to the combined impact of sequestration and continuing resolutions. In addition to the leadership having no idea what their budget numbers may be, and therefore they are unable to enact any kind of meaningful long-range plan, there is also a direct bearing on the men and women in the ranks with a resultant negative impact on morale and motivation.
Traditions “to do more with less” not-with-standing, there is only so much that can be done without the proper support to get it done. Under the current conditions the military’s leaders are focused on training and equipping those units on the front lines. But since there are insufficient funds to adequately support the military our nation says it wants, the result is those that have returned from their deployments do not get the same level of training and support. Put another way, if I work on a ship’s radar — and am a certified expert that takes pride and satisfaction in my work — what is the organization telling me when it says I need to wait six months to get the repair part needed to get my equipment in top operating condition? Is it saying I’m not important? My equipment is not important? My unit is not important? What happens when there is a contingency and we are told to set sail and I know that my equipment — the piece of the ship that is my responsibility — is not in top operating condition?
On top of that, training exercises are being cut back or eliminated. What our military men and women can do better than any military in the world comes from practice, practice, and more practice. When key training is cut, it takes twice as long to regain that skill. Tanks, airplanes, ships, and other high-tech gear does not operate itself. People operate the gear, and without the right training the most technologically equipped military cannot use it to its full ability — not to mention that under even benign circumstances, the military is a dangerous profession. Without consistent use and improvement of aviation, ship-driving and other skills, basic evolutions become ever more dangerous and people are killed or injured needlessly.
With two wars putting incredible stress on our citizens in uniform and their families, why do we want to create a false sense of crisis that only puts more stress and additional unknown problems on top of those that already exist in an inherently dangerous profession?
The budget “crisis” is a false crisis that some in Congress created and use for their own personal political ends. Patriots? I think not. If the mess doesn’t get straightened out soon — and the odds for that are low given that our legislators went home for five weeks without a budget in sight — the impact will create other USS Miami situations and do what our enemies could not — knock powerful units of our Armed Forces out of the battle.