In line with Pentagon directives earlier this month to plan for a year of “budgetary uncertainty,” the Navy has drawn up a two-tiered plan to immediately reduce its rate of spending in case there’s a multibillion dollar mismatch between what it’s currently spending and what it has available in its operating accounts for the current year.
A mismatch of some kind appears increasingly likely. The Navy has so far been spending money in its operation and maintenance accounts under the assumption that Congress would eventually pass a DoD budget for the fiscal year which began last October, and that lawmakers would find a way to undo the punitive budget cuts they created for themselves under the sequestration process, which would slice each Defense project and program by 9 percent in order to reduce the nation’s deficit. But four months into fiscal 2013, neither of those assumptions has proved correct, and the Navy says it is responding by doing everything it can to slow the rate at which cash churns through its operations and maintenance budget.
For example, any hiring of new civilian employees is prohibited except under exceptional circumstances. The Navy has already begun canceling all ship and aircraft maintenance that was supposed to happen between April and September of this year. In addition, training activities for sailors must be canceled unless they’re about to deploy, and the Navy will cut back its spending on information technology in 2013 by 25 percent.
The IT cut is effective immediately, and is in addition to the service’s previous commitment to reduce its technology expenditures by 25 percent between 2011 and 2016, a Navy official said.
The cuts “may be reversed if Congress passes a FY13 appropriations bill or grants Navy permission to reprogram funds from investment accounts to (operations and maintenance),” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations told commanders in a Jan 25 memo. “However, failure to reduce our current obligation rates is not an option.”
While the first set of cuts in effect now is undesirable for the Navy, they’ve been chosen in such a way that they could be reversed with minimal long-term damage if Congress and the White House figure out a way to cancel sequestration and pass a budget, officials said. The Navy has reserved the most potentially damaging actions for its second tranche of spending cutbacks, referred to as “Tier Bravo” in Navy planning documents.
“A lot of that is in the planning phase, because we don’t really know if sequestration is going to happen. But we have to be ready to pull that trigger in March if it happens,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Navy’s chief of information, said in an interview with Federal News Radio.
Under sequestration, Navy civilian workers would face furloughs
If the trigger is pulled, the Navy would take additional actions. For example, every civilian would be furloughed for 22 days without pay. The service’s plans also include canceling deployments of fast attack submarines, cutting out tuition assistance for sailors, cutting back flying hours from carriers in the Middle East by more than half and stopping all stateside training operations that “do not support pre-deployment training.” “The biggest impacts would be to forces who are not deployed right now but who are next to deploy, in terms of making sure they’re ready to go,” Kirby said. “It would also affect forward-deployed operations. For instance, we’d have to cancel naval operations in and around South America. Any deployments to Europe that aren’t directly related to ballistic missile defense, those would be canceled. It would also reduce our steaming and flying hours, even in the Middle East. You might still have assets there, but they’re not going to be operating at the same operational tempo they are right now.”
Kirby said the Navy’s cost-cutting decisions were centered around the idea that limited O&M dollars should focus on sailors who are serving aboard ships at the moment, that those forces should be ready to fight and that their replacements should be ready too.
“That’s really the goal. Everything is geared to preserving forward-deployed readiness,” he said. “But what that means is that some non-deployed readiness is going to get pushed to the right. What does that do? It makes in harder in 2014 to preserve readiness. Those ships were supposed to get fixed aren’t going to be able to deploy when they we’re supposed to. Those exercises that didn’t get done haven’t been performed. We’ll have forces on station, but they won’t be quite as ready or quite as capable as what we have right now.”
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-8 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.