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Sequestration Day Arrives in Washington

By GSN Staff

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- Despite a series of dire warnings from the Pentagon and other agencies, the federal government is just a few hours away from initiating a mandatory $1.2 trillion, nearly decade-long budget cut.

The White House Management and Budget Office has reportedly cited 11:59 p.m. Friday as the deadline for President Obama to issue the sequester order. A last-minute meeting between Obama and top Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Friday ended with no progress on an alternative plan, and two Senate legislative proposals failed on Thursday.

Spending reductions set by the 2011 Budget Control Act would begin with $85 billion through Sept. 30; $46 billion of that would come from Defense Department coffers.

A number of Republican lawmakers have indicated they are prepared to allow the sequester to stand, and some economics specialists caution against overstating the immediate effects of the new situation.

The heads of departments that manage the U.S. nuclear arsenal, nonproliferation projects and other security activities have been less sanguine. Here’s what some of them have said.

Defense Department

Recently retired Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top DOD officials were perhaps the loudest in citing the dangers of sequestration.

If they remain in place, the cuts over 10 years could force elimination of the nation’s ICBM fleet and cancellation of plans to deploy missile defense elements in and around Europe, Panetta said in a November 2011 letter to lawmakers. Reductions in that period would also lower the nation’s ballistic missile submarine force to 10; delay preparation of a future nuclear-armed submarine; and halt development of a new long-range bomber until the middle of the next decade, he wrote.

Defense spending cuts from sequestration and other measures “would seriously damage the fragile American economy, and they would degrade our ability to respond to crisis precisely at a time of rising instability across the globe, North Africa, to the Straits of Hormuz, from Syria to North Korea," Panetta warned in early February.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said later in the month that the Pentagon would seek to shield management of its land-, sea- and air-based nuclear deterrent against the impact of sequestration. He acknowledged, though, “there may be some effects on some parts of it.”

Panetta’s replacement, Chuck Hagel, this week acknowledged the “uncertainty in what’s ahead” as the Pentagon moved to implement the cuts.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley reaffirmed concerns that loss of funding could slow development of a next-generation nuclear bomber. The Air Force Global Strike Command, which manages the service’s bombers and ICBMs, has also warned of loss of flying hours and looming furloughs to nearly 3,000 civilian staffers.

The Navy has cited budget constraints for its decision to keep only one aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.

Israel, meanwhile, is said to worry that it risks losing U.S. funding for its developing antimissile systems and other military aid.

State Department

New Secretary of State John Kerry last month said eliminating $850 million in operational funding and $1.7 billion in foreign aid this year would constrain nuclear threat reduction and other security efforts. The cuts would include $35 million that would otherwise be spent on counterterrorism and projects to secure or eliminate weapons.

Energy Department

The National Nuclear Security Administration – the semiautonomous DOE branch charged with overseeing the nation’s nuclear weapons complex – is making initial preparations to furlough staff, acting NNSA Administrator Neile Miller said in a Thursday letter to employees. Firms working on the agency’s behalf “may need to take significant employment actions across the complex as a result of funding cuts,” she wrote.

Democratic House appropriators claimed in February that sequestration could force thousands of furloughs at the Pantex Plant in Texas and other Energy Department sites that support sustainment of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

Life-extension work on the B-61 gravity bomb and other nuclear weapons would be slowed, “leading to increased costs and impacts to deployment and readiness in the future,” lawmakers said.

The Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee plans to furlough “most” personnel at the nuclear arms plant between April 1 and Oct. 1, the site’s contractor informed employees on Thursday.

“Some work that can be moved into next year would be rescheduled, and some discretionary activities would be eliminated,” according to Chuck Spencer, chief operating officer for B&W Technical Services.

Homeland Security Department

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said loss in funding for the DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s work on biological agent countermeasures would be among widespread impacts to border security, cyber defense and other sectors.

Health and Human Services Department

Health and Human Services plans to reduce spending by roughly 5 percent for all programs funded through annual appropriations, a spokesman said on Thursday.

Those include two medical readiness grant efforts -- the Public Health Emergency Preparedness cooperative agreement initiative and the Hospital Preparedness Program -- but not activities funded under Project Bioshield or its managing arm, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

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