WASHINGTON -- Defense contractor Brian Kent doesn’t like the sound he hears from Washington about the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.
It’s the sound of a lot of talk and little action, and Kent says it’s hurting his business and others headquartered outside the gates of Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C.
“We took cuts across the company, not just at Fort Bragg,” said Kent, president of K3 Enterprises, which provides technological services. “Yes, we cut staff. It was almost a joke in Washington, D.C. ‘Federal leadership – there is no decision too important we can’t put off until tomorrow.’”
The sequester was never supposed happen. White House and congressional lawmakers embraced it during the 2011 debt ceiling showdown as a political poison pill that would force both sides to develop a better way to ease deficits by cutting spending or raising taxes. They couldn’t agree on an alternative, and now $52 billion more in military cuts loom in the new fiscal year that starts Tuesday – on top of the $37 billion slashed earlier this year. Combined, they’re leaving residents and businesses near some of the nation’s military installations warning about the adverse effect the cuts will have on regions dependent on the military.
“There has been a lot of concern raised, particularly about the furloughs of civilian employees,” former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told McClatchy. “When you look at these super bases around the country, a good portion of the local economies are dependent on them. It’s impacting our economy, it’s impacting jobs and it’s impacting our readiness.”
A provision of the 2011 Budget Control Act, sequestration is set to cut $500 billion from the defense budget over a decade, and with additional reductions implemented in 2011, nearly $1 trillion would be cut from projected military spending over the next 10 years.
Pentagon budgeters were able to blunt the impact of the initial cut after Congress approved a request in June that gave the Defense Department flexibility to shift funds across accounts. That ability, and what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called additional “budget management efforts,” allowed the Pentagon to whittle the civilian employee furlough days from 21 to six.
Still, the cuts were felt in military towns and are about to grow.
“It’s the most disappointed I’ve ever been as a member of Congress,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., whose state is home to eight military installations. “I’m disappointed in my party for even embracing the concept of sequestration if we failed to achieve $1.2 trillion in cuts. I’m disappointed in the commander in chief above all.”
Though he’s more concerned with sequester’s effect on military preparedness, Graham conceded that its economic impact “will be substantial in those areas of the country that depend on the military footprint.”
“Communities that depend on that footprint are going to be economically devastated – it would be like major industries closing,” he said. “That’s the side effect of sequestration that no one thought much about.”
John Crutchfield, president of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, likes to call the Army’s Fort Hood base the “800-pound economic gorilla” in Central Texas responsible for nearly 69,000 jobs and $25.3 billion economic impact for the state, according to a 2011 report by the state comptroller’s office. “We like to protect that gorilla,” Crutchfield said.