Anyone who has attended an AFCEA conference in the past two months has heard the constant drumbeat from senior government leadership on the limitations on operations and readiness likely to occur in defense, intelligence and homeland security. At the AFCEA/USNI West 2013 Conference in San Diego January 29-31, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a packed audience that the U.S. Defense Department did not know how much money it would receive, when it would receive it or what the restrictions on its use would be.
While we are getting a similar message from defense, intelligence and homeland security leaders, the most concise statement of the problem comes from Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Ashton Carter. In a January 10 memorandum, “Handling Budgetary Uncertainty in Fiscal Year 2013,” Carter points out that the department faces two elements of economic uncertainty in this fiscal year. First, the department, as are all U.S. federal agencies, is operating under a continuing resolution (CR) that expires March 27. While the Defense Department is working with Congress to get appropriations bills, the possibility exists that it will operate under a CR for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Under a CR, the department is limited to prior-year funding levels, and there can be no new starts. In addition, transfer of funds among categories is very limited. Second, Congress deferred potential sequestration under the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 from January 2, 2013, to March 1. If sequestration does occur this late in the year, the approximately $46 billion in reductions would occur in a very concentrated period. Remember too that the reductions under sequestration have few exceptions and must be applied across all program elements.
Planning for the worst case—that the CR continues through the year and that sequestration occurs without modification this month—the Defense Department is taking anticipatory action. Near-term processes that have been approved include: civilian hiring freezes (except for mission-critical activities); termination of temporary hires and nonrenewal of term employees; reductions in base operating funding; curtailment of travel, training and conferences (all with exceptions for mission-critical activities, including maintenance of licensure or equivalent certifications); curtailment of facilities maintenance; curtailment of administrative expenses; review of contracts and studies for possible cost savings; cancellation of third- and fourth-quarter ship maintenance availabilities and aviation and ground depot-level maintenance activities; and required approval for all high-value research and development and production contracts from the senior leadership prior to award or modification.
It is easy to see the potential for disruption of operations and reduction of readiness. People can read in full the deputy secretary of defense’s memorandum and the significant budget impact guidance issued in 2012 and 2013 at the AFCEA International website (www.afcea.org)—click on the notice highlighted in yellow in the center of the home page.
Recognizing that the worst case might not happen, the deputy secretary of defense encouraged department leaders to minimize irreversible decisions. But what is important to note is that these actions are being taken now, because to wait concentrates the cuts unacceptably in the last two quarters of the fiscal year.
The impact of all of this on you—our membership—depends on where you sit, but it will affect everyone. If you are military, you will have fewer resources to employ; will have to constrain travel and training; and may see platforms and equipment reduced in effectiveness and readiness. If you are a government civilian, you face the potential of greater workload, rotating furloughs and reduced compensation. If you are a contractor, you are likely to see contract slowdowns and reduced resources as well as the absence of new starts.
We all understand, whether we are government or industry, that communication between government and industry is critically important to national security. We at AFCEA are dedicated to promoting this dialogue. This is most true now, when budgets are tight and every dollar spent must count. On February 6 at the AFCEA Rocky Mountain Chapter’s CYBERSPACE 2013 Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Gen. William L. Shelton, USAF, commander, U.S. Air Force Space Command, reminded all of us that we have to get procurements and developments right the first time because it is likely we will not have the money to do them over.
These same budget constraints will make that dialogue most difficult. I challenge all of you to help us find ways of communicating that minimize travel requirements and focus on mission-critical issues and necessary training. Local and regional meetings and online information exchange will be key to success. If you have ideas how AFCEA can do more to help, please send them directly to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). As always, thanks for all you do.