US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has ordered the US military to prepare for the worst in face of a potential USD52 billion cut in pentagon’s budget this year if White House and Congress do not agree on a new budget plan by March.
The money-saving measures announced by Panetta on Thursday, include freezing of civilian hiring, cutting down on maintenance work and postponing some weapon contracts.
"We have no idea what the hell is going to happen,” said the US military chief at a news conference, reflecting his pessimism that US lawmakers and the Obama administration will reach a compromise budget deal to avert automatic cuts in military and domestic spending.
"All told, this uncertainty, if left unresolved by the Congress, will seriously harm our military readiness,” Panetta added, noting that the measures were essential since the Pentagon faces a “perfect storm of budget uncertainty.”
If US legislators cannot reach a deal with the White House by March 1 to halt automatic budget cuts, so-called “sequestration,” the Pentagon would see its funding slashed by over USD50 billion this year and USD500 billion over the next ten years.
The original deadline for the budget agreement was January 1, but US lawmakers and the Obama administration postponed it for three months after frantically working out a temporary deal and a major tax hike over the New Year’s holiday weekend.
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey also joined Panetta in voicing anger about the looming cuts in American military budget.
“Sequestration is a self-inflicted wound on national security,” said Gen. Dempsey. “It’s an irresponsible way to manage our nation’s defense. It cuts blindly and it cuts bluntly. It compounds risk, and it compromises readiness.”
Meanwhile, Pentagon’s hiring freeze is expected to significantly distress the economy around the US capital of Washington DC, The Washington Post
reports, noting that the defense department “employs about 800,000 civilians worldwide,” many of whom are locally concentrated.