Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sequester Looms: Congress Adjourns, President Golfs

One might think that the language of dire pain coming out of Washington last week would have been sufficient to steel our elected officials for the hard work of figuring out how to reverse their collective rectal/cranial inversion.  Instead, everyone left town (though the President is back).

For a couple of weeks now, I've been waving the red flag over my sense that DoD has become blatantly politicized by an Administration wishing to use it as a cudgel to achieve its broader policy goals, primarily that of additional revenue.  Additionally, there can be no question that the pure joy of appearing more pro-defense than the House Republican Caucus is good for several smiles a day in the White House Press Corps briefing room.  This battle is a two-fer for the White House, and in the process, they have hung the Service Chiefs out to dry--men who wittingly or unwittingly (I cannot say for sure) resisted what every bone in their body told them was the right thing to do (plan for the unthinkable). 

Along these lines, I received a couple of emails this week, the gist of which I'd like to share with you.

First, from a senior Air Force Official:

"The services had been prohibited from doing any planning until about three weeks ago when everyone started late nights, weekends.  Basically a Chinese fire drill because, at least in my service, and I'm guessing all the others, the real information fidelity is at the major subordinate commands, not in the Pentagon.  By us refusing to inform them and allow them to plan, you get the debacle you saw in testimony last week. I'm partucularly disgusted with Panetta, who I initially was a big fan of.  He, for purely political reasons, in my estimation, prohibited the Department from doing what it does best, plan and execute. We've been expressly prohibited from discussing ANY of the options with our civilian workforce. Since the FY is ticking away, the only way to get to the numbers of cuts is the draconian stuff described last week."

And then there's this, from a senior Navy Official:

"The administration has all along been trying to force the Congress' hand on Sequestration using the military, which some HASC members picked up on. For example, the reason we didn't plan was based on a desire to force Congress to act, and in hearings last week we were told to 'show the pain.' The reductions being undertaken now really are the only ones available due to having to cut $8.6B from about $20B remaining in operations and maintenance funding this year, but there has been pressure from the Administration to choose more high-profile reductions to make the hazards of sequestration more dramatic. Navy has resisted that pressure."

Charming.  I read this to say that the Navy is getting pressure to "fire teachers and cops" rather than lay off dog-catchers and dispatchers.  

I know, I know.  Many of you are saying, "hey McGrath, when did you all of a sudden become politically naive.  Of COURSE the Administration is doing this.  This is the way things are done in Washington.  Wake up."  I concede that naked exercise of power is common in this town, but the coin of the realm in getting things done is trust.  What I won't concede is the blithe politicization of the Joint Chiefs, jeopardizing their credibility and trustworthiness.  This goes too far, and institutional damage cannot be far behind.

Bryan McGrath 

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