Legislators avoid fiscal cliff, delay sequester process
WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2013 - Congress has avoided the fiscal cliff, but Pentagon Press Secretary George Little called on the body to continue efforts to permanently eliminate the threat of sequestration.
The House of Representatives passed a Senate proposal that avoided the fiscal cliff last night. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is pleased Congress acted, Little said, but notes there is more work to be done.
Had Congress not acted, sequestration -- taking an additional $500 billion from the DOD budget -- would have kicked in. The legislation passed yesterday delays that process for two months. Panetta hopes that within that time Congress can find a way to end sequestration once and for all, Little said. If not, sequestration will trigger automatically, leaving little time to make the required cuts.
"While we have whistled by this fiscal cliff, we need to keep our eye on the ball and make sure sequestration does not take effect, ever," Little said.
Little emphasized that the threat of sequestration still hangs over the department.
"It is very important that we avoid sequester permanently," he said. "This can't be a situation where we delay every two months. The specter of sequestration -- of guns to the head -- none of that is anything that we welcome. We hope to avoid it at all costs."
Panetta has repeatedly stressed that sequestration would be devastating to national defense.
The department was preparing for the worst, Little said. If sequestration were triggered, he said, DOD would try to make monetary reductions via furloughs rather than in reductions in force.
"We were prepared to do the prudent thing and tell our civilian workforce that many of them might face some kind of furlough if sequestration had taken effect," Little said.
"Our first assumption is we are not going to try to punish a small group of civilian employees by firing them because Congress can't do its job," he said. "Furlough is the preferred course of action."
The potential for furloughs shows that sequestration isn't just some abstract circumstance affecting only dollars and decimal points, he said.
"This is something that will have an impact on real people, doing real work and on real missions in the department," Little said.
The deal that Congress reached is likely to have some effect on the fiscal 2013 defense budget and for planning for the fiscal 2014 budget, Little said. DOD officials are waiting for guidance on this from the Office of Management and Budget, he added.