Homeland Security

Carrie Cordero Compiles Alarm-Sounding Sequestration Comments

By Benjamin Wittes
Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 6:43 AM

Carrie Cordero, Georgetown’s Director of National Security Studies and a former Justice Department official, writes in with the following useful compilation of administration warnings about the effects of sequestration on national security:

One might think it would have been better to start with Senator Tom Coburn’s infamous Wastebook when looking for places to trim the deficit. (Great reading, by the way, if you have never skimmed through it.) But instead, as we all know by now, sequestration is, we’re told, going to hit some of government’s most critical functions, including the nation’s ability to protect against national security threats. Although recent news reporting reveals that the world did not end when the clock struck midnight last Friday, the real effects are not likely to be felt until the civilian employee furloughs begin at the end of this month.Here’s a few highlights (or, perhaps more accurately, lowlights) of the recent comments by senior national security officials that, taken together, start to define the scope of just how bad this really could be:

  • Previewing what was to come, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said in January that sequestration would “seriously harm our military readiness."
  • On February 15th, DNI Clapper gave an interview on federal news radio, advising that Sequestration will have a damaging effect on the Intelligence Community, but that he would explore ways to mitigate the impact.
  • Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers told Congress in an appearance last week that "’the foundation on which our national security environment rests’ is at severe risk.”
  • Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano gave a press conference at the White House last week stating that sequestration would affect air travel and security, border protection, customs enforcement, and immigration law enforcement, and that it “would be disruptive and destructive.” She said that Customs and Border Patrol personnel would be subject to furlough. The Coast Guard will reduce operations. Human smuggling investigations will slow down. And immigration detentions will be shortened.
  • Furloughs are going to be widespread—at DOD, perhaps in the Intelligence Community, and for sure throughout federal law enforcement. According to an interview with Attorney General Eric Holder last week, “There are not going to be as many FBI agents, ATF agents, DEA agents, prosecutors who are going to be able to do their jobs….they're going to spend time out of their offices, not doing their jobs."
  • The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on February 27th featuring officials from each of the services. The statements are available here. A few notable passages:
    • From Darrell D. Jones, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, U.S. Air Force: “Sequestration will have an immediate, devastating and long-term impact on the Air Force`s readiness levels.”
    • From Lieutenant General Howard B. Bromberg, USA, Deputy Chief of Staff G-1, U.S. Army: “If nothing is done to mitigate the effects of operations under a Continuing Resolution, shortfalls in our funding of overseas contingency operations, and the enactment of sequestration, the Army will be forced to make dramatic cuts to its personnel, its readiness, and its modernization programs. If not addressed, the current fiscal uncertainty will significantly and rapidly degrade Army’s readiness for the next five to ten years. Cuts of this severity will put our national security at risk.”
    • From Lieutenant General Robert E. Milstead, Jr., USMC, Deputy Commandant, Manpower & Reserve Affairs, U.S. Marine Corps: “Even though MPMC funding is exempt from sequestration, our Marines will still most certainly be negatively impacted by a furlough of up to 19,600 Civilian Marines. With a ratio 1 civilian for every 10 Marines, furloughs of any length to our Civilian Marines compromises the readiness of the Marine Corps.”
    • From Vice Admiral Scott R. Van Buskirk, USN, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Manpower, Personnel, Training, and Education, U.S. Navy: “For most Sailors and their families the significance of the effect of sequestration and the CR is the dramatic adjustment in the deployment schedules of ships and aircraft. Delayed or canceled deployments disrupt the lives of Navy families, particularly in cases in which Sailors have relocated dependents to be near extended family during prolonged deployments, or have otherwise based personal and financial decisions on anticipated pay and tax benefits associated with deployment. Increased anxiety, family separation, and impacts to family budgets, due to the uncertainty, hurt force morale to an extent that can be neither quantified nor taken for granted.”
    • From Mrs. Jessica L. Wright, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, U.S. Department of Defense: On the effect on military families, “Although military family programs will be protected to the extent feasible, sequestration will impact funding across the board, and furloughs will impact civilian positions such as those that provide child care and family programs at the installation level….” She describes the financial impact on DOD programs that support military families such as child care, education, health care and all the other support systems that enable warfighters to do their jobs.

From the other side of the looking glass, The Cato Institute has put out information stating that we can all still sleep soundly with sequestration because, in a post-Cold War world, there’s no existential threat to the U.S. anymore.

Only time will tell if the comments by current national security officials turns out to be alarmist, or accurate. And hopefully last-ditch efforts from those like Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) to introduce legislation provide agency heads with more flexibility to implement the cuts will help alleviate the effects of Sequestration. How to prevent this mess from happening again anytime soon? Perhaps there are 468 ways. I think that’s the overall number of members of Congress up for re-election in 2014.