WASHINGTON: It may be because Congress is out of town. Or it may be that few in the defense enterprise have any answers to the looming automatic cuts of $500 billion that will come due on Jan. 3, 2013. I vote for the latter.
But whatever the reasons, a panel of éminences grises sat down this morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and offered few insights on sequestration beyond the fact that something is pretty certainly going to happen and the Defense Department should probably get ready for it.
The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. James Winnefeld, set the tone for the morning in a keynote speech before the sequestration panel got going.
“The term we’re using right now is, we’re thinking about sequestration, not planning for it,” he said to rueful laughter from the crowd. “It’s a hard law to implement, multiple interpretations, but most common is that it’d require straight cuts of same amount to everything, which leaves little room to plan.” Winnefeld said the military leadership is “hopeful that the Congress will find a responsible solution to this.”
The vice chairman said the department will “begin to look in earnest at what we will have to do if sequestration comes to fruition” sometime this summer. It’s an interesting game of chicken. The Pentagon refuses to act on sequestration because it’s just too daffy a law and approach to take seriously. The White House promises to veto any effort by Congress to dodge sequestration. The defense industry stands in the wings shaking its head and using lobbyists and friends such as the Aerospace Industries Association to blare dire warnings of the effects of sequestration. Many GOP members of the House and Senate trumpet their opposition to the cuts, while the institution continues to do nothing much, locked in desperate, often mindless partisanship and working to get reelected.
Meanwhile, the nation’s military faces automatic cuts. Sure, there appear to be ways around it. But so far no one seems to agree any of the might actually work.
The sequestration panel offered a few tidbits about how industry is reacting. Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ron Fogleman said his company, Alliant Tech, has actually increased its internal research and development spending to ensure it doesn’t lose technical skills and is ready to offer new products when the time comes. Sean O’Keefe, CEO of EADS North America was more cautious, saying his company would scale down such spending and wait to see what happens.
Beyond that, there were few insights on what might happen and what effects the cuts might have, perhaps reflecting a consensus that sequestration is so daffy that Congress will just have to do something to avoid it. Or maybe….