A management review ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in light of sequestration was a collaborative process that involved not just the office of the secretary of defense, but also took in the opinions of combatant commanders, the services and the Joint Staff, Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters today.
Speaking at a news conference alongside Hagel, Winnefeld said the Strategic Choices and Management Review was a “deep and very painful look at every corner of our entire institution.
“I can tell you that although nobody was very happy as they came to terms with what a cut to their particular part of the department would involve,” he said, “they were all involved in the process, and the process made us all better.”
The review was not simply an academic exercise, the admiral said. While the nation’s strategic interests were always at the forefront of the discussion, he noted, “everything was on the table.”
“It became quickly apparent there is no free lunch,” Winnefeld said. “We need to understand that the more our means are reduced, the more we may have to adjust the ends that we hope to achieve, or accept more risk as we achieve those ends.”
A considerable amount of intellectual effort inside the review process was devoted to looking at new ways of doing business, the admiral said.
“We didn't come up with any dramatic changes in service organization, ... but there was a considerable effort involved in the ways,” he said. “Things like, ‘How do you generate presence more innovatively? How would you do homeland air defense more innovatively?’ And taking a deep look inside some of our contingency plans -- is there a more efficient way we can execute those things?”
Both Hagel and Winnefeld stressed to reporters that the most damaging element of sequestration is the speed at which the reductions hit the Defense Department. Under sequestration, the department is required to make $470 billion in cuts over 10 years in addition to an equivalent cut already planned. The cuts this fiscal year amounted to $37 billion -- implemented only in the last half of the year. Next year, they are estimated to be $52 billion.
“They're sudden and deep, rather than gradual,” Winnefeld said, “but we are limited in how fast we can or should reduce the number of people in our department, and we're limited by legislation in the ways that we can cut other parts of our budget.”
Because Congress largely has removed from the table DOD’s ability to shift funds among various accounts or make reductions to personnel and excess infrastructure outlays, the department must make steeper cuts in other accounts to meet the mandated reduction goals, Winnefeld said.
“All we can really do in the early years of this thing is grab money wherever we can,” he said. And, the admiral noted, that principally will be out of the modernization and readiness accounts, making the early years of the cuts particularly disruptive to the department’s ability to defend the nation.
As the cuts progress, tension will develop between capacity and capability, Winnefeld said. And without knowing how long sequestration will continue, or how much of it will stay in force, the department and the military services must weigh several possible outcomes.
“So we've asked the services to go and look at a couple of different budget scenarios, because we don't know where we're going to be,” he said. “This is one of the frustrating things here. We don't know how much money we're going to have. We don't know when we will know how much money we're going to have. And we don't know what the rules are going to be when we know.”
Winnefeld said he and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are very concerned that most of the reductions could end up coming on the back of readiness.
“We need the freedom to find savings and efficiencies in compensation first, or the structure and modernization and readiness of the force that defends our nation will have to be reduced even more.”
Because of sequestration, large-scale training was stopped or slowed this year, the admiral said. “It's going to take both resources and time to recover and get that readiness back.”