It is up to Congress to dissipate the shadow of sequestration hanging over the Defense Department, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey discussed on Monday the impending $500 billion budget reduction over the next ten years that would incur if Congress does not resolve an alternate solution by January 2013.
Congress should approve an alternate budget plan in order to maintain the military strength Panetta believes is necessary to face today’s security environment, he said during the press conference.
He said the Pentagon has not received directives from the Office of Management and Budget to plan for sequestration, but added the possibility is already impacting the department and industries it depends on.
Congress is set to review defense authorization and appropriations bills in the coming weeks.
Panetta said he hopes Congress will review the new defense strategy and cautions that if the cuts are handled incorrectly, it will result in a hollow military force.
Panetta notes that the Budget Control Act is structured in such a way that any change in one area of the budget or force structure will require offsetting changes in other areas.
Panetta’s hope is that Congress will reach a speedy decision to de-trigger the sequester.
The longer Congress waits, the more impact the impending cuts will have on the Pentagon’s planning and budget processes, he added.
Dempsey said he expects the Pentagon will have to begin planning toward the middle or end of the summer in order to react to sequester cuts.
Panetta noted that he believes military reductions should occur but that Congress has a small margin of error in its decision to avoid a significantly unbalanced or weakened force.